New Delhi: BJP youth wing worker from West Bengal Priyanka Sharma Monday moved the Supreme Court against her arrest over allegedly sharing a morphed image of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Facebook. The court will hear the matter Tuesday.
In the morphed image shared on 9 May, Banerjee’s face was superimposed on actor Priyanka Chopra’s picture from the MET Gala event in New York. The image has now been deleted from Facebook.
Sharma, 26, was arrested on 10 May and charged under IPC Section 500 (defamation), and sections 66A (offensive content) and 67A (distributing sexually explicit material) of the Information and Technology (IT) Act.
Sharma’s lawyer Neeraj Kishan Kaul, who filed a petition in the Supreme Court on her behalf, said none of the charges would hold up in court.
“The case was filed by a TMC worker. Now if IPC (Section) 500, defamation, has to hold, then the complainant has to be Mamata Banerjee herself,” he said.
On Section 66A, Kaul said it was struck down in Shreya Singhal versus Union of India 2015 case, and “Section 67A is not even a valid section because the image does not have sexually explicit content”. Section 67A is a non-bailable offence.
After Sharma shared the picture on Facebook, a Trinamool Congress leader filed a complaint with the West Bengal police’s cyber cell. Sharma, who is Howrah district’s convener of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM), was then arrested and sent to two weeks’ judicial custody.
ThePrint reached the Howrah cyber cell for comment but they refused, saying they did not have the “requisite information.”
‘Depends on how SC interprets the image’
Criminal lawyer N. Hariharan echoed Kaul.
“The image seems more like a spoonerism. It prima facie isn’t sexually explicit,” he said.
“They (the West Bengal Cyber Cell) can charge her under it (Section 67A), but it will hardly hold up in the court,” he added.
According to Hariharan, the image falls under Section 66A, which flags offensive content. But, since all sections are subjective, the ultimate result will depend on how the Supreme Court interprets the image, he added.
“They may think it’s revealing, but it’s highly unlikely,” the lawyer said. “Context and intent will have to be established in the case.”
Criticism over arrest
Sharma’s arrest has drawn flak, especially from the BJP which said it amounted to quashing of freedom of speech.
“Appalled at an Emergency-like situation in WB. Freedom of expression is severely curbed. Priyanka Sharma, executive member of @bjym4howrah has been sent to 14-day police custody for posting a Met Gala-themed meme on @MamataOfficial. #ISupportPriyankaSharma – Please Release Her,” BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma wrote on Twitter.
BJP MP from Mumbai Poonam Mahajan also criticised the arrest and said: “The TMC government in West Bengal under the draconian control of CM, @MamataOfficial Banerjee once again tried to stifle freedom of speech and expression”.
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