Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Facebook page - adverse comments aginst Govt. officer were not a crime under the law

The Supreme Court has yet again come to the rescue of common people who give vent to their anguish against official apathy on social networking sites as it said such adverse comments were not a crime under the law. 

Saving a Bengaluru-based couple from criminal prosecution for posting adverse comments against the police on the Bangalore Police Facebook page, the court ruled that it was a public forum and a commoner had every right to give vent to his feelings. 

The court quashed criminal proceedings against the couple which had accused a police officer of misbehaviour. Upset at the Facebook comment, the police officer lodged an FIR against the couple for offences of criminal intimidation and assault aimed at preventing him from discharging his duty. 

Unimpressed by the police's argument justifying filing of the case, a bench of Justices V Gopala Gowda and R Banumathi said mere expression of any word without any intention to cause alarm would not be sufficient to slap charges of criminal intimidation. It said there was also no intention on the part of the couple to obstruct the officer from discharging his duty. 

"As far as the comments posted on Facebook are concerned, it appears that it is a public forum meant for helping the public and the act of appellants posting a comment on Facebook may not attract ingredients of criminal intimidation in Section 503 IPC," the court said. 

The couple contended that the Facebook page of Bengaluru traffic police was a public forum meant for citizens to discuss and post their grievances and it could not be prosecuted for posting comments against the officer for his misbehavior. 

"As noted earlier, the page created by the traffic police on Facebook was a forum for the public to put forth their grievances. In our considered view, the appellants might have posted the comment online under the bona fide belief that it was within the permissible limits. As discussed earlier, even going by the uncontroverted allegations in the FIR, in our view, none of the ingredients of the alleged offences are satisfied," it said. 

Accepting the couple's submission, the bench quashed the FIR filed against them. 

"We are of the view that in the facts and circumstances of the case, it would be unjust to allow the process of the court to be continued against the appellants and consequently the order of the high court is liable to be set aside," the court said. 

The couple, Manik Taneja and wife Sakshi Jawa, met with an accident in June last year when their car collided with an auto. They were taken to police station where an officer allegedly misbehaved and threatened them. 

Aggrieved at the manner in which they were treated, the couple posted comments on the Bangalore traffic police's Facebook page, accusing the officer of misbehaviour. The officer lodged a complaint. The couple then approached the Karnataka High Court which refused to quash the FIR.

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