Chandigarh: The Punjab and Haryana High Court Friday sentenced former Punjab deputy superintendent of police (DSP) Balwinder Sekhon and his associate Pardeep Sharma to six months in jail, declaring them guilty of contempt of court.
On 20 February, the bench invoked its extraordinary powers and remanded the two to judicial custody till Friday (24 February), when they were asked to be present before the court. The bench had also asked YouTube, Facebook and Twitter to immediately stop the circulation of all the “derogatory” videos.
Sekhon, who was dismissed from service after his run-in with former Congress minister Bharat Bhushan Ashu, runs an NGO called ‘Main Punjabi Manch’. For the past few months, he had been issuing statements against the judiciary and uploading them on his YouTube channel. His statements and videos have since been recirculated through various social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter.
Taking a sou motu cognisance of these posts, a division bench of the High Court headed by Justice GS Sandhawalia had on 16 February issued a contempt notice to Sekhon and Sharma.
On receiving the notice, Sekhon and Sharma, who were present in the court, at that time raised slogans against the judiciary and reiterated their tirade against the judges before the media outside the court complex. The same evening, Sekhon and Sharma gave an interview to a reporter repeating their statements.
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‘Have no remorse’
During the resumed Friday hearing, the court said: “Since we have seen the videos and the respondents are present in the court, there is no dispute regarding the identity of the persons involved in the videos. The transcripts of the said videos are per se derogatory, malicious, libellous and against the constitutional authorities and this institution in principle.”
The bench added that there was also no dispute that the said videos were featured on the platforms of respondents, the intermediaries… “and the viewers at this point was uncertain — could be manifold”.
“Thus mud-slinging by way of open publication and representation of such malicious material being circulated, not only at the national but international level, amounts to inciting people at large against the Rule of Law and against one of the basic wings of the democratic set up under the Constitution of India consisting of the legislature, executive and the judiciary. Therefore, it gives us no reason to postpone the proceedings for requiring any trial,” the bench said.
Stating that the respondents Sekhon and Sharma “have no remorse”, the bench convicted and sentenced both the accused to six months of simple imprisonment along with a fine of Rs 2,000 each. “They shall undergo the aforesaid sentence at Model Jail, Burail, UT, Chandigarh.” read the bench’s Friday order.
At the time the sentence was announced, Balwinder Singh Sekhon raised slogans “Judicial Gundagardi Murdabad” in the open court and further compounded the contempt, and for that, “we are not in a position to give a lesser sentence than has been awarded,” added the order.
According to the court registrar (computerisation), the offending material runs into 35 gigabytes of data with a run time of 10 to 12 hours, the bench said.
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Questions to social media
The bench also asked Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to inform the court if Sekhon had got any financial benefits through the 37,000 subscribers he had on his YouTube channel.
“….they shall also specify how much revenue or earnings, if any, were given to respondent No. 6 (Balwinder Singh Sekhon) by way of monetisation, and whether any revenue has been generated in the account of said person’s account,” the order said.
The bench has also asked the three social media platforms to tell the court if they had put in place any “redressal mechanism” and how actively this mechanism responded to complaints received from the citizens.
“The said respondents, in their affidavits, shall also give details of the redressal mechanism which has been put in place and how actively it has been responded by the said respondents on the complaints received from the citizens,” read Friday’s order.
The bench also sought a status report from the Punjab government as to why proceedings were not initiated against the “persons who were constantly uploading/posting such videos” and why was there a dereliction of duties on their behalf.
“The state shall also give details under which other provisions it has the authority to detain people who indulge in such activities. The needful be done within a period of four weeks from today,” it said.
The state government Friday informed the bench that a departmental inquiry had been initiated against SHO Sarabha Nagar, Ludhiana. The government added that the assistant commissioner of police (crime), Ludhiana and ACP (West) Ludhiana, have also been asked to explain why Sekhon and Sharma were “allowed” to give bytes to the media outside the Ludhiana court complex on 20 February.
The bench has asked the Punjab DGP to file a status report in the form of a personal affidavit about the action taken against these police officers.
(Edited by Richa Mishra)
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