The Madras High Court on Friday stayed all further proceedings on a police complaint against film director AR Murugadoss, who is accused of allegedly criticising the Tamil Nadu government and former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, The Hindu reported.

The director’s petition in the High Court sought that the First Information Report filed against him by the Central Crime Branch be dismissed. The FIR had been filed on a complaint from a man named Devarajan, who alleged that Murugadoss’s film Sarkar instigated violence.

Workers of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam had protested and vandalised movie theatres in the state after the movie was released on November 6. They claimed a scene showing the public destroying freebies given by the government tarnished Jayalalithaa’s image. The movie’s production team later deleted the controversial scenes.

Justice N Anand Venkatesh on Friday observed that the creative expression of artists could not be curtailed by anyone, and that judges, ministers and law officers were open to criticism in a democracy. The Chennai Police’s move to file an FIR against Murugadoss was similar to “arm-twisting”, said the judge.

“What will happen to the constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression in this country, if cases are foisted for having criticised government schemes in movies? You cannot force an artist to take [make] movies as you like,” he said. “Neither the state government nor the police can say one should take a movie only like this.”

The judge said that the Supreme Court had made it clear that once the Central Board of Film Certification has issued a certificate, it means that it has taken into consideration factors such as possible disturbance to public order. “When such is the case, how can you register an FIR after the release?” he asked.

Murugadoss’s petition contended that there was no prima facie case against him as criticising government policy in a democracy was not an offence and was guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.

The court will next hear the matter after six weeks.