[One of a kind] High Court of Andhra Pradesh a petitioner before High Court of AP over Jagan's MLAs' abusive posts; Facebook, Twitter added
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[One of a kind] High Court of Andhra Pradesh a petitioner before High Court of AP over Jagan's MLAs' abusive posts; Facebook, Twitter added

"The tweets/ posts/ comments etc. have travelled beyond mere offensive speech, encompassing speech which is insulting, derogatory, discriminatory and provocative", states the plea by the High Court Registrar General.

Meera Emmanuel

The Andhra Pradesh High Court, through its Registrar General, has filed a writ petition for the removal of online content abusing the High Court and for criminal action against those who have posted such content.

The writ petition stated to have filed on the administrative side arraigns State authorities, including the police, Central Government authorities and social media companies as parties.

The High Court had filed multiple FIRs with Cycercell Wing of the Andhra Police and the Writ Petition alleged that these functionaries have been slow to act on the complaints made.

The social media giants impleaded as parties include Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Google and YoutTube.

When the matter came up before the Bench of Chief Justice JK Maheshwari and Justice C Praveen Kumar on May 29, the Court issued notice and directed the respondents to take down the abusive content online in accordance with law.

The social media entities were also given a direction to desist from allowing such abusive or defamatory content against the High Court to be shared online on their platforms. The matter has been listed to be taken up next in the third week of June.

The petition states that the impleaded social media/ online platforms are being utilised and abused by netizens to create ill-will and hatred against the High Court in the public mind.

The petition states that trolls online went into overdrive to comment, attack and taint the Andhra Pradesh High Court, in a show of sheer intimidation and browbeating.

This followed three judgments rendered by the Court recently, including one concerning the decision to set aside a Government proposal to covert the medium of instruction in Government Schools to English.

Whereas two FIRs over such abusive posts were registered last April, the same has not deterred such trolls and netizens from attacking the judiciary online, the petitioner adds.

An additional grievance raised is that the FIRs does not cite the offence under Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), although the offending online content prima facie disturbs societal harmony.

These FIRs name unknown persons with the following social handle names as accused, i.e. Kondareddy Dhanireddy YSRCP, Sudheer Pamula, Manu Annapureddy, Aadarsh Pattepu, Abhishek Reddy and Siva Reddy.

Apart from those named in the FIRs, the High Court also recently issued contempt notices to 49 other persons for public statements alleged to have attributed motives, caste and corruption allegations to the High Court.

The objectionable statements made by these persons, as recorded in the Registrar General's letter to the Advocate General for initiation of contempt proceedings, is also referred to in the petition.

The plea states further that, "The tweets/ posts/ comments and videos have travelled beyond mere offensive speech, encompassing speech which is insulting, derogatory, discriminatory, provocative or even such that it incites and encourages use of violence or results in violent backlashes. The said comments and posts are disturbing the harmony and order in society at large, amounting to hate speech, which is heinous type of hate crime causing direct physical and psychological harm to the Institution and its believers."

While this is the case, the petition points out that the judiciary is not in a strong position to defend itself against such attacks. Following principles of self-restraint, it is noted that judges are not in a position to defend or debate their decisions in public. The plea adds,

“Having no constituency, no purse and no sword, the Judiciary must rely on moral authority. Without such authority, it cannot perform its vital function as the interpreter and protector of the Constitution of India, the arbiter in disputes between the organs of the State and ultimately, as the conscience and watch keeper of the basic structure of the Constitution.”

In view of these concerns, the petition filed on behalf of the Andhra Pradesh High Court, makes prayers on the following, among other, aspects:

  • Progressing the investigation in FIRs registered for abusive statements online against the Judiciary;

  • Removal of the abusive content from the online platforms;

  • Transfer of the investigation into the FIRs already registered to an independent agency under the supervision of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs;

  • The need for framing guidelines for intermediary liability, particularly for the protection of the judiciary online;

  • The need for social media companies to devise a self-regulatory framework to prohibit the posting of defamatory, incriminatory and abusive content on their platforms with respect to the Judiciary in India;

  • The removal of all defamatory, incriminatory and abusive content against the Court on social media.

The petition has been filed by the High Court's Registrar General, B Rajashekhar through standing counsel N Ashwani Kumar.

Recently, Senior Advocate Harish Salve had spoken about this case at a webinar. Read the thread and the story.

Read the Orders:

AP HC order - May 29.pdf
AP HC Notice order - May 29.pdf
Bar and Bench - Indian Legal news