The Bombay High Court on Friday observed that freedom of speech and expression under Article 19 of the Constitution is not an absolute right and refused to grant interim protection to a woman accused of making derogatory comments on Twitter against Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and his son Aditya Thackeray, Live Law reported.
The court, however, directed the state government not to arrest the woman, identified as Sunaina Holey, for at least two weeks, provided she cooperated with the Mumbai Police’s investigation. The bench also allowed Holey to approach the court at any time during this period in case the police took any coercive action against her or if any of her rights were breached.
Justices SS Shinde and MS Karnik were hearing a petition filed by Holey seeking to quash the three FIRs filed against her in Mumbai. One FIR was filed at the in BKC cyber crime police station, another at Azad Maidan, and the third one at Tulinj police station in Palghar, according to PTI. The FIRs were registered following complaints made by several persons, including by one Rohan Chavhan, a leader of the Shiv Sena’s youth wing, Yuva Sena.
The case relates to three tweets Holey had posted on different occasions. In the first tweet, Holey had shared a video of a man blaming Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the coronavirus lockdown, and tagged Uddhav Thackeray, according to The Hindu. In the second tweet, she posted a caricature of the prime minister and the chief minister. The third one relates to her response to an allegedly abusive tweet made by an unidentified user. The user had reportedly asked how Holey, a north Indian, could criticise ministers from Maharashtra, to which she had responded that it made no difference as she is an Indian.
Holey was arrested in August and released on bail in the case pertaining to the FIR registered against her by the BKC cyber crimes police. On the remaining two FIRs, she was served notices under section 41A(1) of the CrPC, and was asked to visit the concerned police stations for interrogation.
During the hearing on Friday, advocate Abhinav Chandrachud, appearing on behalf of Holey, told the court that she was being targeted for “all and any of her tweets”. The advocate argued this was a breach of Holey’s rights under Article 19 of the Constitution .
At this juncture, the bench remarked that right to free speech and expression under Article 19 was not absolute. “Perhaps citizens are under the impression that freedom of speech and expression is an absolute right, without any restrictions,” the bench said.
As the hearing progressed, the state’s counsel YP Yagnik told the court that despite a notice being issued to the petitioner, she has not appeared before the police to cooperate in the investigation. Chandrachud said this was because his client was apprehensive that if she visited the police, she would be arrested. However, the court refused to accept this argument and said interim protection from arrest could be granted only for arrest in rare cases.
Chandrachud then told the court that Holey would be present at the Azad Maidan Police Station on September 14 at 11 am, and before Tulinj Police Station on September 16 at 11 am, and said she would cooperate with the investigation. Yagnik, meanwhile, sought two weeks to file an adavit and assured the court the petitioner will not be arrested till then. The court accepted Chandrachud’s submission and directed the state government to file its reply within two weeks. The matter will be next heard on September 29.