Phantom sensations of 66A.

Once again, 66A has been brought to the forefront of every news report the whole of this last week. We're sure it caught everyone's attention considering a meme was involved.

We've explained the journey of 66A earlier, that, the Supreme Court in the Shreya Singhal case in 2015, declared it unconstitutional. However, after a study conducted showed pending cases of 66A still on the loose, People's Union for Civil Liberties along with the study approached the Hon'ble Supreme Court once again. Victoriously, the Court ordered that copies of the Shreya Singhal judgement be passed on to all Courts, Prosecutors and Police Departments in India to bring about the necessary awareness of its unconstitutionality.

However, not to despair, since we went back to court with PUCL, a skimming through the web and online legal databases do infact show an absence of pending 66A cases. To evidence the same, a case in the Patna High Court (CR. WJC No.72 of 2019), acknowledges the wrongful use of Section 66A in a detention order by the State Government and has required it to re-visit the matter in order to consider the correctness (Read the judgement here).

While there has clearly been a drop in the presence of 66A, two recent instances have brought it back to the spotlight. We know, it's been a grey-skied week, especially in Delhi as you'll see a little later in this post.

Adventures at the Supreme Court of India  

Event I

The Supreme Court has had an interesting last week. Petitioner A. Siva Raman, filed a contempt petition (Conmt.Pet.(C) No. 618/2019) in the case filed by People's Union for Civil Liberties asking the court to ensure the passing of the Shreya Singhal's judgement, to which the Court with J. Rohinton Nariman and J. Vineet Saran, on May 10, 2019 issued notice (Read the order here).

While we are not entirely aware of the reason for the contempt petition, it would be reasonably fair to infer that there has been a breach of the directions of the Supreme Court's orders. As soon as we have more information, an update will be put out.

Event II

In West Bengal, a 25 year old woman named Priyanka Sharma, member of the Bharatiya Janata Party was arrested for posting a meme on Facebook. The meme was a picture of Chief Minister Mamata Bannerjee in place of Priyanka Chopra's face at her appearance at the Met Gala. On the basis of a complaint by a member of the Trinamool Congress, an FIR was filed against her invoking the essence of Section 66A of the Information Technology Act as a reason, for which she was arrested. There is a lack of clarity as to whether the original charges emphatically quoted Section 66A itself as consistently reported by the media or merely imposed its effect within the ambit of Section 66 of the IT Act.

Approaching the Supreme Court, the vacation bench of the Supreme Court immediately ordered her release by the West Bengal Government but along side stated that she apologise in writing once she was released. News reports indicate that before her release, Priyanka Sharma was forced to sign a written apology. While the Court may have tried to avoid implying the apology was pre-conditional to her release, it's final order managed to convey just that. Bar and Bench has uploaded the application seeking directions from the Court for her release here.

Although the closure report of the police in West Bengal indicated that it has no basis for the charges filed, the intention behind the purpose of using Section 66 was quite clear. The continued use of this provision has definitely been concerning especially after having gone to Court twice, however, it's use finding a way through the guise of Section 66 calls for the need to be more vigilant in ensuring the essence of 66A no longer prevails.

Once again, IFF will continue to all that it can to uphold the right to freedom of speech and experience if every which was it possibly can.

  • Notice in the Contempt Petition filed by A. Siva Raman [link]

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