Mamata Banerjee meme row: Supreme Court orders immediate release of BJP activist Priyanka Sharma

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Published: May 15, 2019 12:37:59 AM

A Vacation Bench led by Justice Indira Banerjee asked Sharma to tender a written apology to Banerjee for sharing a photo in which Banerjee’s face has been photo-shopped on the form of actor Priyanka Chopra.

The Supreme Court also issued notice to West Bengal Police over the way the party activist was taken into custody.The Supreme Court also issued notice to West Bengal Police over the way the party activist was taken into custody.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered immediate release of West Bengal BJP activist Priyanka Sharma, who was arrested for sharing the morphed picture of chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Facebook, but said that she must tender a written apology at the time of her release.

A Vacation Bench led by Justice Indira Banerjee asked Sharma to tender a written apology to Banerjee for sharing a photo in which Banerjee’s face has been photo-shopped on the form of actor Priyanka Chopra. “Is there any difficulty in apologising? We are asking her to apologise for herself. Freedom of speech ends where it affects others’ rights,” the Supreme Court said, adding that “if somebody is hurt, let an apology come…By saying sorry, you don’t come down”.

The court also issued notice to West Bengal Police over the way the party activist was taken into custody.

The 26-year-old BJP Yuva Morcha leader, who was arrested last Friday, was picked up by the police from her residence and was sent to two weeks’ judicial custody. The charges cited on a criminal complaint filed by TMC leader Vibhas Hazra include “defamation and offensive messages”. She was also booked under certain provisions of the Information Technology Act.

Interestingly, one of the provisions under which she was booked was Section 66A of the I-T Act, which was declared unconstitutional by the top court in March 2015.

Senior counsel Neeraj Kishan Kaul, appearing for Sharma, questioned “if one is asked to apologise for memes, will citizens come and apologise for a caricature?” Arguing that the order asking her to apologise will have a “chilling effect on freedom of expression,” he told the Bench that the leader did not create the morphed picture and she was being made to apologise only because of her association with the BJP.

However, Justice Sanjiv Khanna, who was part of the Bench, said the court would not have asked Sharma to apologise if it was a common man who shared the meme, but when it’s a political worker doing it, the insinuation has a different meaning.

The BJP youth wing activist’s arrest had provoked anger and strong protests, terming it as an attempt to suppress free speech.

“Humour, wit, sarcasm survive in a free society. They have no place in autocracies. Dictators laugh at people. They don’t like people laughing at them. Bengal, today is a case in point,” Union Minister Arun Jaitley had tweeted on Tuesday.

Ambikesh Mahapatra, a chemistry professor at Jadavpur University, was arrested for circulating an email with Banerjee’s caricature in 2012.

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