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Allahabad HC Declines Man’s Request to Quash Criminal Proceedings for Facebook Posts Against Indian PM, Army

In its November 24 order, the High Court noted that Facebook posts by the accused “appear to be publication and circulation of statements made with an intent to incite one class or community of persons to commit an offence against another class or community”.

Last month, the Allahabad High Court refused to quash criminal proceedings against a man accused of posting “disrespectful comments” against the Indian Army and Prime Minister Narendra Modi from his Facebook page. The accused was charged under criminal provisions for statements conducing public mischief, among others. The case will be heard next on Thursday. The matter was first reported by LiveLaw.

In his November 24th order, Justice J.J. Munir held that the Facebook posts:

“…Indeed, appear to be publication and circulation of statements made with an intent to incite one class or community of persons to commit an offence against another class or community. Prima facie, given the totality of the context, the statements are divisive of the community and tend to promote insecurity in the minds of one community against another. These also tend to create fear or alarm amongst the public that may induce one Section of the public to commit offences against public tranquility or the State.”

Justice Munir added that the comments may also have some bearing on the Army’s morale, while adding that a more detailed probe is required under law:

“…These remarks are based on prima facie impression on a reading of the statement and are in no way a finding or expression of opinion on the merits of the matter, which must be tried in accordance with law. There is one statement relating to some dead bodies etc., which may have some kind of bearing on the morale of the Armed Forces, but that would require a more detailed probe…To the above extent, accordingly, we decline to quash the charge- sheet and direct the trial to proceed.”

About the case: An FIR was initially lodged by the Kiratpur police under Section 505 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, (criminalising statements conducing public mischief) and Section 66A of the Information and Technology Act, 2000 (criminalising sending offensive messages online). Not to be forgotten: Section 66A was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2015 for its unconstitutionally broad restrictions on free speech online. Despite the ruling, multiple cases continue to be filed under the “zombie” provision, with the Supreme Court having to remind police forces not to do so.

The FIR revealed that Sahil Mehra, a resident of Uttar Pradesh’s Mohalla Chauhanan, had posted “disrespectful” comments on the Indian Army on Facebook for a few days, which could allegedly have a demoralising effect on the forces. Mehra had also posted similarly about India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The FIR added that his comments had created tension between “two areas in the town” and that Mehra was “fomenting enmity in the society”.

After investigating the FIR, the police subsequently filed a chargesheet under Section 505 of the Indian Penal Code, and Section 66 of the Information and Technology Act (criminalising computer related offences) (seemingly dropping the Section 66A charge). The Najibabad magistrate court (under the Bijnor district) took cognisance of the case and summoned Mehra to stand trial in February this year. Mehra subsequently moved the Allahabad High Court requesting it to quash the criminal proceedings against him.

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Although the High Court ultimately upheld the proceedings, it found that a prima facie case regarding Section 66 of the IT Act didn’t appear to be made out:

“…So far as the offence under Section 66 of the IT Act is concerned, that case does not appear to be prima facie made out, because none of the acts in relation to a computer or computer system, like damaging it, disrupting it or causing denial of access to any person etc., as envisaged under Section 43 of the I.T. Act, is prima facie disclosed,” Justice Munir observed. “Therefore, let notice limited to the offence charged under Section 66 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 issue to the opposite parties returnable on 14.12.2023.”

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