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The Supreme Court today directed the State of West Bengal to release BJP worker Priyanka Sharma who had been arrested for sharing a morphed image of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on social media.
The Bench of Justices Indira Banerjee and Sanjiv Khanna ordered for Sharma’s immediate release. Upon her release, Sharma will have to tender a written apology.
The release on bail for Sharma was initially made subject to her tendering an apology. However, the Court later modified its order to drop the words “subject to“. Sharma will now have to tender an apology upon her release.
Senior Counsel Neeraj Kishan Kaul, arguing for Sharma, submitted that the arrest and subsequent judicial custody will have a “chilling effect on freedom of expression“. He pointed out that the meme in question is a form of “evolving caricature, humour and political satire” and that the meme was doing rounds on the internet even before it was shared by Sharma.
The Court agreed for Sharma’s release. However, Kaul also urged for the larger issue of freedom of expression to be left open. The Court thus issued notice to the State of West Bengal on the larger issue, while directing the immediate release of Sharma. The State of West Bengal was represented by State’s Standing Counsel Suhaan Mukerji and Advocate Astha Sharma.
Sharma was arrested on Saturday and was subsequently sent to 14 days of judicial custody for sharing a meme of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on social media. The police arrested Sharma on a complaint filed by Bivas Chandra Hazra after Sharma posted her status on Facebook. This move by the State’s Police has been widely criticised as an attack on the freedom of expression.
Yesterday, the matter was mentioned for urgent hearing before the Vacation Bench of Justices Banerjee and Khanna.
Kaul had stated that there has been a complete cessation of legal work in the State of West Bengal since April 25 following a “brutal attack” on lawyers in Howrah Court by the State Police. Owing to this strike, Sharma submitted that she had no recourse to any legal remedy in the State. This, in turn, had prompted Sharma to approach the Supreme Court for relief.
Along with Senior Advocate Neeraj Kishan Kaul, Advocates Rajshekhar Rao, Kotla Harshvardhan, Satyajit Sarna, Amit Agrawal, Aanchal Tikmani, Chanan Parwani, Sahil Raveen, Rahul Kukreja, and Kshitij Maheshwari appeared for Priyanka Sharma.
Read the Order: