The Calcutta High Court on Wednesday directed the West Bengal police to return the mobile phone and SIM card seized from a doctor over his social media posts criticising the government for lack of proper protective gear for front-line workers to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, LiveLaw reported. The court observed that freedom of speech and expression granted under Article 19 of the Constitution has to be scrupulously upheld by the state.
“If an expression of opinion brings the government into disrepute, it cannot defend this allegation by intimidation of the person expressing the opinion by subjecting him to prolonged interrogation, threatening arrest, seizing his mobile phone and SIM card, and so on,” the order by Justice IP Mukerji
said. “It can do so if a citizen tries to utilise this freedom by trying to circulate alleged facts maliciously with a view to causing damage to another person or to the public at large or the nation. This could be done by unnecessary spread of fear and panic among the public for the above reason.”
Indranil Khan, a private medical practitioner who has specialised in oncology, moved court alleging harassment by police in connection with an first information report filed against him on March 29. The doctor had reportedly written several posts on Facebook regarding the deficient protective gear supplied by the government to doctors treating coronavirus patients. He was booked under Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code.
Justice Mukerji added that he went through his posts on social media. “I notice that there is a reply to the tweet made by the writ petitioner by the Department of Health and Family Welfare, thanking the petitioner for highlighting the matter,” the order stated.
The court said the police “may start a criminal case against the writ petitioner without arresting him, if at all the evidence prima facie discloses an offence”, adding that the doctor is restrained from making any posts regarding the matter.
Doctors, nurses and ambulance workers from various parts of the country have urged the government to ensure necessary items for their safety during treatment of the coronavirus patients in last few weeks.