Dr Indranil Khan
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Litigation News

[Coronavirus] If expression of opinion brings Government into disrepute, it cannot defend by intimidating the person expressing opinion

Meera Emmanuel

The Calcutta High Court on Monday granted interim relief to an oncologist against whom an FIR was registered for posting on social media over alleged deficiencies in the protective gear given to doctors treating COVID-19 patients.

The oncologist had moved the Court in a writ petition after he was interrogated by the police, after the FIR alleging the commission of an offence under Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code was registered.

FB Post of Indranil Khan
FB Post of Indranil Khan

The petitioner also told the Court that his mobile phone and SIM card were seized during the lengthy interrogation.

While granting the petitioner interim relief, Justice IP Mukerji also made pertinent observations against State intimidation of citizens for expressing opinions their opinions as an extension of their freedom of speech. In this regard, the orders states,

“Freedom of speech and expression which is granted under Article 19 of the Constitution of India has to be scrupulously upheld by the State. If an expression of opinion brings the government into disrepute, it cannot defend this allegation by intimidation of the person expressing the opinion by subjecting him to prolonged interrogation, threatening arrest seizing his mobile phone and SIM card and so on.”
Calcutta High Court

The Court added that such coercive action may, however, be used when a person misuses his/her freedom to spread unnecessary fear and panic.

“It can do so if a citizen tries to utilize this freedom by trying to circulate alleged facts maliciously with a view to causing damage to another person or to the public at large or the nation. This could be done by unnecessary spread of fear and panic among the public for the above reason.”

Calcutta High Court

While this was the case, the Court opined that prima facie, the ingredients of the offence charged seemed to be lacking in the instant case. The judge also noted that the oncologist’s post was acknowledged and appreciated by a government authority on social media.

I have gone through the Facebook postings. I notice that there is a reply to the Tweet made by the writ petitioner by the Department of Health and Family Welfare thanking the writ petitioner for highlighting the matter (page 38 of the petition)", the judge observed.

All the same, the Court proceeded to direct that the petitioner refrain from making any more posts on the topic for now. In this regard, the order reads,

“For the time being the writ petitioner is restrained from making any posting in his Facebook concerning the above issue.”

Calcutta High Court

This apart, the Court disposed of the writ plea while directing the police officers not to take further coercive action against the petitioner, without the leave of the appropriate court. The judge has directed as follows:

  • The police should immediately return the mobile phone and SIM card of the writ petitioner to him.

  • No further interrogation of the writ petitioner is allowed without the leave of a proper court.

  • The State may start a criminal case against the writ petitioner without arresting him, if at all the evidence prima facie discloses an offence.

  • Liberty of the petitioner can only be curtailed by orders of the said court to be passed in a properly instituted proceeding.

[Read the Order]

Dr. Indranil Khan vs State of West Bengal - Calcutta HC Order.pdf
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