The Supreme Court’s vacation bench on Wednesday censured the West Bengal government for the delay in the release of a Bharatiya Janata Party youth leader who was arrested for sharing a meme of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, ANI reported. The court had on Tuesday ordered Priyanka Sharma’s immediate release, but she was let off only on Wednesday morning.
Sharma’s counsel, NK Kaul, told the court that she had not been released yet despite the order. The vacation bench said it would issue a contempt notice, but then the state government informed the court that Sharma had been released at 9.40 am on Wednesday.
The court asked why Sharma was not released immediately, and said her arrest was prima facie arbitrary.
Kaul also told the bench that Sharma was made to sign an apology letter before her release, which was against the court’s order. Sharma’s lawyers also filed an application against the closure report prepared by the West Bengal police. The court will hear the application when it reopens after summer vacation in July.
On Tuesday, the top court had first allowed Sharma bail on the condition that she apologises, but later modified the order, and said she should apologise when she was set free. Sharma had been in custody since May 10 after she was accused of sharing a morphed photo of Mamata Banerjee on social media. The meme Sharma had shared showed Banerjee’s face photoshopped on a picture of Bollywood actor Priyanka Chopra from the MET Gala in New York.
“The detenue, Priyanka Sharma, is directed to be immediately released on bail,” the bench had said on Tuesday. “The detenue shall, however, at the time of release, tender an apology in writing for putting up/sharing the pictures complained of on her Facebook account. It is made clear that this order is being made in the special facts and circumstances of this case and shall not operate as a precedent.”
Sharma said she was only released nearly 18 hours after the court granted her bail. “They didn’t allow me to meet my advocate and family,” she said at a press conference, according to ANI. “They made me sign an apology. I will fight this case. I will not apologise.”
Justice Sanjiv Khanna had said since elections were going on and Sharma was from the BJP, “the other side might take the meme differently”, Bar and Bench reported.
BJP leader Poonam Mahajan welcomed the order but said the direction for an apology had sent out a “wrong message”. She said the party’s youth wing will challenge the direction.