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Right to free speech cannot be exercised to sow seeds of hatred: Bombay HC

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New Delhi: The Bombay High Court while dealing with a petition seeking actions against the accused for posting inflammatory speech on social media, observed that the right to free speech “cannot be used to sow seeds of hatred and to create disharmony among religious communities.

The bench, comprising Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Madhav J Jamdar, further observed: “People may exercise some degree of restraint on their liberty of free speech and expression particularly during these testing times. The right cannot be exercised to sow seeds of hatred and to create disharmony among religious communities. Since inflammatory posts/messages have the potential of disturbing public peace and tranquility, strong action ought to be taken against those responsible to uphold the high values aimed at by the Constitution. In a secular country like India, the citizens of different religions should feel assured that they can live in peace with persons practicing other religions. Regrettably, a trend is clearly discernible that in the name of exercise of a right, the liberty of free speech is being abused with bad faith.”

The bench further called on the state to introduce a regime of conduct with stricter norms but satisfying the test of reasonableness, in exercise of the power conferred by Article 19(2) of the Constitution, to deal with rapid rise of absolutely avoidable, uncalled for and unwarranted inflammatory posts/messages on the social media.

The petitioner Imran Khan, aggrieved by the inaction of the state, sought orders on the state and its police force to take steps for deletion of the offensive video clips/messages, as well as for direction on the intermediaries to permanently block the access of the said accused Abu Faisal to the relevant social media sites.

On the question, whether for the alleged inaction of the state and its police force, as complained of by the petitioner, any direction could or should be issued to the State, the Court observed that “the position in law is, thus, unambiguous that neither the State nor its police force can issue a blocking order; it is left to the discretion of the Designated Officer under the 2009 Rules to himself pass an order for blocking, if the circumstances call for such an order, or block in deference to an order of a competent court.

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Another prayer which sought directions to intermediaries to permanently block Abu Faisal to the relevant social media sites, the bench refrained to issue any order and left it to the nodal officer to take decision on it.

Read the order here;

Imran-Khan-v-State-of-Maharashtra-and-Ors

– India Legal Bureau

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