Using Cyberspace To Vent Out Anger By Travestying PM, Key Figures Abhorrent: Allahabad HC
While leaving not even an iota of doubt on not just essentially preserving the most inviolable right of reputation but also according it the highest importance, the Allahabad High Court which is the biggest court not just in India but in whole of Asia most recently on February 21, 2022 in an extremely learned, laudable, landmark and latest judgment titled Niyaz Ahmad Khan vs State of U.P. and Another in 2022 LiveLaw (AB) 58 and Application U/S 482 No. 28472 of 2021 minced absolutely no words to observe that the use of cyberspace by some people to vent out their anger and frustration by travestying the Prime Minister, key figures holding the highest office in the country, or any other individual is abhorrent and it violates the right to reputation of others. The single Judge Bench of Justice Sanjay Kumar Singh observed so while refusing to quash criminal proceedings including the charge sheet, cognizance and the summoning order passed by Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate, Sant Kabir Nagar against one Niyaz Ahmad Khan who allegedly shared morphed photos of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Facebook showing Modi shaking hands with dreaded and wanted terrorist Hafiz Saeed in April 2018 and another morphed photo showing Modi and Shah feeding biscuit to dogs on whom names of news channels India TV, Aaj Tak and Zee News were written! This is an attack not just on leaders occupying highest posts like PM and Home Minister but it is also the worst mockery of our media which forms the fourth pillar of democracy which cannot be justified!
Needless to say, at a time of digital revolution when we tend to quickly share any video which we get from anywhere feeling that this will make other laugh must be extremely careful from now onwards to always ensure that we don’t fall a prey to any such act which violates the right of reputation of any eminent public figure and in the process instead ensure a fixed jail term for ourselves as we see in this case also! We see how in this case Niyaz Khan got booked under Section 67 Information Technology (Amendment) Act, 2008 and Section 500 IPC. If we are little careful on this, we can definitely save ourselves from unnecessary legal troubles as we see in this case also!
To start with, this brief, brilliant, bold and balanced judgment authored by a single Judge Bench comprising of Justice Sanjay Kumar Singh first and foremost puts forth in para 1 that, “By means of this application under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, the applicant has invoked the inherent jurisdiction of this Court for quashing the charge-sheet dated 27.01.2020 arising out of Case Crime No. 296 of 2019, cognizance/summoning order dated 22.07.2020 and proceedings of Criminal Case No. 2887 of 2020 (State Vs. Niyaz Ahmad Khan), under Section 67 Information Technology (Amendment) Act, 2008 and Section 500 IPC, Police Station Mehndawal, District Sant Kabir Nagar pending in the court of Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate, Sant Kabir Nagar.”
Briefly stated, the Bench then mentions in para 3 that, “A succinct recapitulation of the facts of the case are that on 28.11.2019, opposite party no. 2, namely, Awadesh Pandey (Senior Sub Inspector), has lodged a first information report against the applicant-Niyaz Ahmad Khan and two others, namely, Anil Sharma and Akhilesh Yadav Samarthak, which has been registered as Case Crime No. 0296 of 2019, under Section 67 Information Technology (Amendment) Act, 2008 and Section 500 IPC at Police Station Mehndawal, District Sant Kabir Nagar. The Investigating Officer after investigation submitted charge-sheet on 27.01.2020 against the applicant, on which the learned Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate, Sant Kabir Nagar took cognizance on 22.07.2020 and summoned the applicant to face trial under Section 67 Information Technology (Amendment) Act, 2008 and Section 500 IPC. The said charge-sheet and summoning order are the subject matter of challenge in the present application.”
Be it noted, the Bench envisages in para 6 that, “Considering the merit of this case, I find that as per allegations levelled in the F.I.R. on 17.10.2017 at 21:46 hours, a morphed photo showing Hon’ble Prime Minister Narendra Modi shaking hands with dreaded and wanted terrorist Hafiz Saeed was posted on Facebook in the name of Anil Sharma and said objectionable post in question was shared by the applicant Niyaz Ahmad Khan on 24.04.2018 at 19:58 hours. Similarly, another post (a morphed photograph), in the name of the supporter of Akhilesh Yadav, which was posted on 01.04.2018 at 15:23 hours showing Hon’ble Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Cabinet Minister Amit Shah are feeding biscuits to dogs, on whom “Aaj Tak TV”, “Zee TV” and “India TV” was written was also shared by the applicant-Niyaz Ahmad Khan on 05.04.2018 at 15:54 hours on his Facebook ID. The grounds taken in the application reveal that many of them relate to disputed question of fact. This Court is of the view that at the stage of summoning the accused, the court below is not required to go into the merit and demerit of the case. Genuineness or otherwise of the allegations cannot be even determined at the stage of summoning the accused. The appreciation of evidence is a function of the trial court. This Court in exercise of power under Section 482 Cr.P.C. cannot assume such jurisdiction and put an end to the process of trial provided under the law. It is also settled by the Apex Court in catena of judgments that the power under Section 482 Cr.P.C. at pre-trial stage should not be used in a routine manner but it has to be used sparingly, only in such appropriate cases, where allegations made in First Information Report or charge-sheet and the materials relied in support of same, on taking their face value and accepting in their entirety do not disclose the commission of any offence against the accused. The disputed question of facts and defence of the accused cannot be taken into consideration at this pre-trial stage, which can be more appropriately gone into by the trial court at the appropriate stage.”
Simply put, the Bench then enunciates in para 7 that, “This Court does not find this case falling in the categories as recognized by the Apex Court for quashing the criminal proceeding of the trial court at pre-trial stage. Considering the facts, circumstances and nature of allegations against the applicant in this case, the cognizable offence is made out. At this stage, only prima facie satisfaction of the Court about the existence of sufficient ground to proceed in the matter is required. The impugned criminal proceeding under the facts of this case cannot be said to be abuse of the process of the Court. There is no good ground to invoke inherent power under Section 482 Cr.P.C. by this Court.”
To be sure, the Bench holds most forthrightly in para 8 that, “I find no illegality or material irregularity in the impugned cognizance/summoning order dated 22.07.2020 to intervene. Consequently, the relief as sought by the applicant through the instant application is hereby refused.”
Most crucially, what forms the necklace of this learned judgment is then summed up in para 9 wherein it is held that, “Having examined the matter in its entirety, here it would be apposite to mention that this Court is of the view that it is beyond the shadow of doubt that social media is a global platform for exchange of thoughts, opinions and ideas. The internet and social media has become an important tool through which individuals can exercise their right to freedom of expression but the right to freedom of expression comes with its own set of special responsibilities and duties. It does not confer upon the citizens the right to speak without responsibility nor does it grant unfettered licence for every possible use of language. There is an immediate need to check the exploitation of social media platforms that has political and societal reverberations that go well beyond hacked systems and stolen identities. Use of Cyberspace by some people to vent out their anger and frustration by travestying the Prime Minister, Key figures holding the highest office in the country or any other individual is abhorrent and violates the right to reputation of others. These kind of acts, posting and sharing unhealthy materials with un-parliamentary language and remarks, etc. on social media without any solid basis cause a deleterious effect on the society at large, ergo in order to protect the reputation and character of individuals, it should be completely stopped. Since such incidents are on rise in a civilized society day by day and are polluting the minds of people, therefore, now it is high time to evolve some more and full proof screening mechanism to regulate, check and control the unhealthy posts on social media. It would be fair enough to state that such persons who are deliberately involved in such acts directly or behind the curtain with oblique motive or to settle their score adopting different modus-operandi are hazardous to the civilized society and they are not entitled for any sympathy in justice delivery system. High Courts are sentinels of justice with extraordinary and inherent power to ensure that rights and reputation of people are duly protected. Considering the gravity and nature of offence as well as misuse of social media platforms, this Court cannot shut its eyes. The Government is also not expected to act as a silent spectator.”
As a corollary, the Bench then directs in para 10 that, “Accordingly, Government is directed to take appropriate remedial measures/steps in order to control and eradicate such proliferating and booming devastating menace, to stop the misuse of social media platforms and to maintain healthy atmosphere in the society, which is the most important and essential factor for a civilized society.”
In addition, the Bench then holds in para 11 that, “With the aforesaid observations and directions, this application is disposed of.”
Finally, the Bench then concludes by directing in para 12 that, “Registrar General of this Court is directed to communicate the facsimile of this order to the Secretary, Ministry of Information and Technology, Government of India, New Delhi, Chief Secretary, State of U.P. and the concerned Court below within a week.”
In sum, if we want to make a specimen of ourselves then we should not follow what Justice Sanjay Kumar Singh has held. But if we want to be always on the right side of law and don’t want to land up in jail for a couple of years and invite unnecessary legal trouble on ourselves and our whole family then we must definitely abide in totality by what Justice Sanjay Kumar Singh of Allahabad High Court has held in this case so clearly, cogently and convincingly! It shall be in our own best interests as also in the best interests of the nation also because indulging in mudslinging won’t take us anywhere except in jail! Now the choice is really ours!