Bombay High Court’s Nagpur bench in the recent case of Suraj Arvind Thakare v. State of Maharashtra dismissed an F.I.R. against a man accused of hacking the Facebook Account of Ravi Rana, MLA of Maharashtra and usage of derogatory language against his opposition in politics. Advocates TS Deshpande, AD Deshmukh and Additional prosecutor IJ Damle represented the applicant and the state respectively.
The two-judge bench of Justices Sunil Shukre and MW Chandwani observed that criticism in a fair manner, disagreement and comments in a satirical manner have become the symbols of this progressive democratic society. The tools of social media like Whatsapp, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. have become important mediums for exchanging viewpoints and making satirical or critical comments.
Further, the bench observed that this will only work so long as it is not abused by posting comments that constitute criminality or that do not fall under reasonable restrictions on freedom of speech under Article 19(2) of the Constitution. Also, when expressing opinions or making comments, we must be careful that the language used is not obscene, disrespectful, or degrading. We must prevent the abuse of social media.
The court observed this after a lawsuit was filed by a 39-year-old man who was trying to quash the FIR under Section 153-A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for hacking the Facebook page and posting abusive content of the MLA. Prosecutors alleged that the defendant intended to sow discord between different groups by using offensive language against Rana's political opponents.
Defendants, however, argued that Section 153-A only applies where there is intent to create disharmony between two groups based on religion, race, caste, etc. This case strikes a delicate balance on which social media stands, given the essential elements of a crime under Section 153-A of the Indian Penal Code and the foul language used to denounce its leaders.
The bench noted that although Section 153-A felony was not established in the case it does not give the defendant permission to verbally abuse a state official. On the one hand, unreported crimes against accusers have been reported, and on the other, accusers have reached a new decline in expressing dissent through obscene remarks. Some restraint needs to be shown by both parties. The court, therefore, overturned the FIR in hopes that the parties would exercise restraint in the future.
Read the Orders for further details: Suraj Arvind Thakare v. State of Maharashtra