Curbing of free speech on social media has disturbingly increased, especially during the tenure of J. Bobde as the Chief Justice of India. This thread is to open discussions regarding the increased number of filing contempt petitions and how it has ultimately threatened the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression.
Filing of contempt petitions over social media posts
Is dissent a tool to strengthen democracy or a crime in India?
According to former CJI SA Bobde, freedom of speech has been most abused in the recent times. A number of contempt petitions were filed against various activists/influential persons over content and tweets posted by them on social media. Freedom of speech and expression is broadly understood as the notion that every person has the natural right to freely express themselves through any media and frontier without outside interference, such as censorship, and without fear of reprisal, such as threats and persecutions. However, it shall be noted that it is not an absolute right and has certain limitations. The Internet and Social Media have become a vital communications tool through which individuals can exercise their right of freedom of expression and exchange information and ideas. The Internet has now become an important tool to spread information and show dissent towards the decisions of the Government which play an important role in strengthening the pillars of democrcy.
In recent years, the Indian authorities have increasingly used criminal laws, including counterterrorism, sedition, and criminal defamation, against peaceful dissenters, journalists, rights activists, academics, and students. Scores of people have been arbitrarily arrested, prosecuted, and imprisoned in politically motivated cases. The contempt verdict against Bhushan could signal to India’s courts that any criticism of the judiciary could be subject to criminal action. In 2020, a contempt petition was filed against lawyer and activist Prashant Bhushan due to tweets posted by him in relation to questioning the judges of Supreme Court as well as a photo of former CJI SA Bobde riding a harley davidson without a mask. He was later asked to pay a fine of Re 1 for his act.
In 2020, the Supreme Court also accepted contempt petitions against comedian Kunal Kamra for posting tweets condemning the supreme court of India and its judges for curbing free speech using law of contempt and web comic artist Sanitary Panels for posting “objectionable comics” against the SC.
Here are few data resources on contempt petitions filed over social media posts:
- https://thewire.in/law/prashant-bhushan-supreme-court-contempt-re-1-fine (Contempt Petition filed against Prashant Bhushan)
- https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/supreme-court-issues-contempt-notice-kunal-kamra-sanitary-panels-139835#:~:text=The%20Supreme%20Court%20on%20Friday,the%20personal%20appearance%20of%20either. (Contempt Petition filed against Kunal Kamra and Sanitary Panels)
- http://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-472-contempt-of-court-analysis.html (Contempt of Court explained)
- https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/08/19/india-contempt-conviction-threatens-free-speech (Contempt Petition threatens free speech)