Observing that “a trend is clearly discernible that in the name of exercise of a right, the liberty of free speech is being abused with bad faith” the Bombay High Court has said that people need to exercise some degree of restraint on their liberty of free speech and expression, particularly during these testing times. The court also said “it is time that the State introduces a regime of conduct with stricter norms but satisfying the test of reasonableness,” to deal with the rapid rise of absolutely avoidable, uncalled for and unwarranted inflammatory posts/messages on social media.
The observations were made by the division bench of chief justice Dipankar Datta and justice Madhav Jamdar while passing its judgement in the public interest litigation (PIL) filed by Mumbai resident Moin Khan through advocate Vivek Shukla.
The PIL had sought a restraint and action against Abu Faizal, the supporter of a political party, who was uploading communally sensitive material on social media sites, which the petitioner argued could lead to communal disharmony. The PIL had sought the removal of the content as well as a permanent ban on Faizal from accessing social media platforms.
During arguments, Shukla had submitted that Faizal was a supporter of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM) party and was spreading hatred through posting of malicious material on social media to create hatred among two communities.
In May, the court had asked Facebook and Youtube– on which Faizal had uploaded the communally sensitive material– to delete the same and directed Mumbai police to investigate the matter. The bench had also observed that under the Information Technology Act, the petitioner could approach the nodal officer and lodge a complaint against the objectionable content and hence would not interfere further in the matter.
On its part, Facebok and Youtube through senior advocate Darius Khambatta and advocate Naresh Thakker had informed the court that they could block Abu Faizal if the court or the Central government ordered them to do so under the IT Act. Thereafter, the court had reserved judgement which was pronounced on Friday, August 21.
While directing the petitioner to pursue his complaint with the nodal officer, the 22 page judgement further said, “The right cannot be exercised to sow seeds of hatred and to create disharmony among religious communities. Since inflammatory posts/messages have the potential of disturbing public peace and tranquility, strong action ought to be taken against those responsible to uphold the high values aimed at by the Constitution. In a secular country like India, the citizens of different religions should feel assured that they can live in peace with persons practicing other religions.”
While pointing to the exercise of right to speech, the court said, “However, those exercising such a right must not remain oblivious that the exercise cannot rise above national interest and interest of the society. In the guise of exercising the right, no form of insult to any group or community, disrupting public order ought to ensue.” The judgement concludes with directions to the state to introduce stricter norms to curb such conduct.