The Supreme Court has granted an interim stay on summons issued by the West Bengal police to a Delhi resident accused of making an 'objectionable' Facebook post against the West Bengal government.
A bench comprising of Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justice Indira Banerjee said that the power of the police to issue summons under section 41A CrPC could not be used to intimidate, threaten and harass, reported Bar and Bench.
The court should restrain the exercise of judicial review in the matter of police investigation. However, it is equally essential to safeguard the fundamental right of freedom of expression given to people under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution. The bench noted.
The observations were made in the case where a 29-year-old woman, Roshni Biswas was pulled up by Calcutta High Court for her Facebook post that read the lockdown norms were being violated in Kolkata's Raja Bazaar area and that the police was complacent in taking action in the area to safeguard 'a particular community.'
The police registered an FIR against her, and the Calcutta High Court further pulled her up for the post. Biswas earlier had approached the Delhi HC. However, they suggested approaching she approaches the Calcutta High Court. In June, the Calcutta HC granted her interim protection from arrest.
Biswas had ensured the HC that she would cooperate with the proceedings. After that, the HC issued summons to her to appear in Kolkata post-September given the lockdown.
On September 29, HC directed her to appear before the investigating officer in the case. She then challenged the summon in the top court.
Senior Advocate, Mahesh Jethmalani while representing Biswas said that there was no material to conduct a probe against her. Further, Biswas had also disclaimed any association with the Facebook post and has not posted anything that would become the subject matter of an FIR.
To this, Senior Advocate R Basant, representing for State of West Bengal said that she would only be questioned and not arrested, and this should be an issue since she had agreed to travel to Kolkata and cooperate with the proceedings, there was no reason for her to oppose complying with the summons issued.
After hearing the parties, the court said that the critical question remains whether an accused can be compelled to be questioned via summons issued over a post that talked about lockdown norms not being followed in the area.
On the matter, the apex court on Wednesday sent out a loud message to the government that citizens can't be hauled from one corner to the other for a social media post critical of the government.
"Do not cross the line. Let India remain a free country. We, as the Supreme Court are here to protect free speech. The reason why the constitution created SC is to ensure that the state does not harass citizens. We cannot haul citizens from one corner to the other for a social media post critical of the government. This is browbeating a citizen for exercising there right to free speech. One cannot be prosecuted for saying the pandemic is not dealt with properly," The Times Of India quoted the judges as saying.