The Jammu and Kashmir Police have registered a first information report against social media criticism of a recent verdict by the High Court. On May 28, a division bench had upheld the detention of Kashmir Bar President Mian Qayoom under the Public Safety Act.

The police have begun their investigation. “It prima-facie reveals that the comments so uploaded on social media had been made with the intention not only to disrepute the Hon’ble High Court but also causing disharmony in the general public and thereby making an attempt at dissuading the general public from reposing faith in the institution of judiciary,” the police said.

The FIR was filed at Srinagar’s Shaheed Ganj police station. The sub-divisional police officer reportedly said it was an “open FIR” and the case has been registered under sections 153A (promoting disharmony, enmity or feelings of hatred between different groups on the grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language) and 505 (intent to incite any class or community to commit any offence against any other class or community) of the Indian Penal Code. He, however, refused to share the details of the FIR. Reports said that the FIR has not been lodged on the complaint of any judge or court official.

The police have zeroed in on over a dozen people based on their social media comments related to the verdict. “I am undergoing chemotherapy,” lawyer Bilal Ahmad Bhat who criticised the said judgment on social media told Outlook. “I was called by the police on the phone and asked to appear in the police station as I had criticised the judgement. I told the police that I am undergoing therapy and they didn’t press further.”

He, however, defended his criticism of the verdict. “The High Court passed a judgment and as a citizen I have every right to comment on the judgment,” said Bhat. “You cannot book people under FIR for commenting on a judgment on social media.”

Lawyers in Kashmir said the FIR was uncalled for. “I think the police should leave it to the Court to decide what undermines the Court’s majesty and what not,” lawyer advocate Habeel Iqbal told The Tribune. “At the worst it can be a case of Contempt but an FIR is totally unjustified and uncalled for.”

On May 28, Justices Ali Mohammad Magrey and Vinod Chatterjee Koul dismissed Qayoom’s petition seeking his release. They asked if Qayoom had shunned his separatist ideology.

Qayoom was booked under the Public Safety Act on August 7, two days after the Centre abrogated the erstwhile state’s special status under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. The Bar president was shifted to Agra jail then to Tihar jail.

Jammu and Kashmir High Court Bar Association has decided to challenge the judgment. “The association decided to call in question the legality and validity of judgement passed in case of HCBA president Mian Qayoom before the apex court by filing a SLP,” the Bar said.

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