The Supreme Court on Wednesday warned state governments and the police against summoning citizens from one part of the country to another over social media posts, The Times of India reported. The court was hearing a challenge by a Delhi resident against summons issued to her by the West Bengal police over Facebook posts.
“Do not cross the line. Let India remain a free country,” the Supreme Court said, according to The Times of India. “We, as the Supreme Court, are here to protect free speech. The reason why the SC was created by the Constitution is to ensure that ordinary citizens are not harassed by the state.”
Twenty-nine-year old Roshni Biswas, who stays in Delhi, had posted on Facebook about large congregations at the Raja Bazar area of Kolkata, saying it violated coronavirus lockdown norms.
“The lockdown is not being followed at Rajabazar…During lockdown, thousands of people have come together and raising concerns as to whether the State administration would do something about it,” Biswas wrote, according to Hindustan Times.
On May 13, an FIR was registered against Biswas at Kolkata’s Ballygunge police station for a number of offences, including promoting enmity between religious groups. The FIR stated that the posts implied that “the state administration was going soft on the violation of the lock down at Rajabazar as the area is predominantly inhabited by a particular community” and that “the state administration was complacent while dealing with lockdown violations caused by a certain segments of the community”.
On June 5, Biswas got a stay of arrest from the Calcutta High Court on an undertaking that she will appear after the lockdown is lifted. The Kolkata police then issued her summons to appear before it for the purpose of questioning. Biswas had approached the Calcutta High Court to quash the FIR. While that plea is still pending, the High Court directed her to appear before the police on September 29. Biswas then challenged this order in the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and Indira Banerjee took exception of the police issuing her summons to appear in Kolkata. “Summoning her from Delhi to Kolkata is sheer harassment. Tomorrow police from Kolkata, Mumbai, Manipur and Chennai will summon people from all parts of India to send a chilling message you want freedom of speech, we will teach you a lesson,” the judges said, according to The Times of India.
On the West Bengal police counsel R Basant’s submission that Biswas would be questioned and not arrested, Justice Chandrachud said, “This is browbeating a citizen for exercising right to free speech. One can’t be prosecuted for saying the pandemic is not dealt with properly,” Times Now reported. “It is like saying how dare a citizen write something against the government. We will haul her up by summoning her from any part of the country.”
The bench suggested that the police send Biswas questions on email or interrogate her through video-conferencing. It asked her to co-operate in the inquiry.