On April 4, we had filed a petition in the Hon’ble High Court of Gujarat in the wake of press reports that close to 21 young persons, many of them college students, were arrested for playing an online game. This game, ‘PUBG’ had been banned by at least six police departments in Gujarat through proclamations made under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.
A copy of our writ petition is available here.
Prior to filing this petition, on 14 March, we had issued a public appeal for revoking these Section 144 orders and ceasing criminal prosecutions against people for playing PUBG. However, despite positive statements from police departments, particularly the Ahmedabad Police, that the ban would not be renewed, some Section 144 orders such as the one passed by the Rajkot Police continue to be in force till April 30. Further, the legal prosecutions would have continued against these young persons who would have either suffered a long criminal trial for years, or may have pleaded guilty for a fine which would then impact their professional prospects and ability to travel abroad for further studies.
The collateral consequences of a criminal conviction can affect a person’s ability to get admission into a college, find a job, rent a house, obtain a visa and so on. This is a serious matter and a criminal conviction for playing PUBG would impose significant disabilities on the 21 young people who have been arrested. We sensed that this required urgent intervention as was extensively pleaded in the writ petition. However, the Hon’ble Gujarat High Court when the case came up for hearing today, i.e. on 11.04.2019 refused to hear the petition at the threshold. This means it has refused to hear the case and dismissed it at the preliminary stage. In such a situation, a short order is usually issued by the court setting out its reasons which we will make available publicly as and when it is uploaded. We were represented by an excellent legal team comprising of Asim Pandaya and Manan Bhatt and we are deeply thankful to them.
During today’s hearing, the Hon’ble Gujarat High Court mentioned that individuals who have been arrested for playing PUBG in contravention of Section 144 orders may approach the High Court on their own. However, this observation is subject to confirmation in the written order. We had anticipated such a concern and addressed it in Para 2.13 of our petition where we noted that young college students who have been arrested may not have the resources and support to withstand protracted litigation against the Police Department. However, the Hon'ble High Court did not agree with our submission.
In terms of next steps, we will confer with our legal team and keep you informed. We hope and are confident that the legal merits of such orders will be examined by our courts on the touchstones of our fundamental rights and constitutional principles.