Kolkata: BJP youth wing activist Priyanka Sharma, who walked out of jail on Wednesday after being arrested for posting a morphed picture of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Facebook, said jail authorities pressured her and extracted an apology for the post.
Sharma, however, asserted she had no regrets for sharing the post for which she had to spend five days behind bars.
She claimed she was “mentally tortured” in jail and was not even given enough water to drink.
Sharma was released from jail at 9:40 a.m. after the Supreme Court Wednesday called her arrest “prima facie arbitrary” and pulled up the West Bengal government for the delay in releasing her.
The apex court had Tuesday ordered Sharma’s release on bail but directed her to tender a “written apology” for sharing the meme on Banerjee saying that freedom of speech of an individual ends when it infringes upon others’ rights.
“The detenue, Priyanka Sharma, is directed to be immediately released on bail. The detenue shall, however, at the time of release, tender an apology in writing for putting up/sharing the pictures complained of on her Facebook account.
It is made clear that this order is being made in the special facts and circumstances of this case and shall not operate as a precedent,” the court had said.
The vacation bench comprising Justices Indira Banerjee and Sanjiv Khanna, which initially said Sharma’s apology will be a condition for bail, later clarified that it will not be so but she should apologise for sharing the post at the time of her release.
Sharma was arrested on May 10 under section 500 (defamation) of the IPC and under other provisions of the Information Technology Act on a complaint by a local Trinamool Congress leader Vibhas Hazra.
She was sent to 14-day judicial custody by a trial court in Howrah, and had moved the Supreme Court for bail as lawyers are on a strike in the state to protest alleged police high-handedness against their colleagues.
However, addressing a press conference after her release, Sharma defiantly said,”I don’t have any regrets. I have not done anything for which I will have to apologise.”
“I was tortured in the jail. Even the jailer pushed me yesterday. I told them I am not a criminal that you are pushing me into the jail room like this,” she said. “They behaved very rudely. The condition inside was very bad.”
Later, talking to PTI Sharma claimed she was shifted from one cramped cell to another several times during her stay in jail. More than 40 prisoners were kept in one cell in hot and humid conditions, she alleged.
“I was not given enough water to drink. They did not allow me to speak to my family members or my lawyer. It was like a mental torture. I think she (the jailer) was doing it at the behest of the state government,” she alleged.
“The jailer came to me and told me to sign a paper saying I am apologetic about my action. I was told that I have to sign the paper in order to get released from jail. So, I signed the paper. I had no other option,” Sharma said.
She said inside the jail she had no information about what was happening outside and that she was not aware of the Supreme Court order.
The Supreme Court was furious on Wednesday when the counsel of Sharma’s brother, who had moved the bail petition, informed it about the delay in her release.
However, the counsel for West Bengal government informed the bench that she was released from jail at 9:40 a.m itself.
“Why 9:40 a.m. today? The order was passed in your presence,” the bench tersely asked the state counsel.
When the state’s counsel referred to the jail manual, the judges shot back, “Jail manual can’t have precedence over an order of the Supreme Court.”
“No. This is not done. First of all the arrest was prima facie arbitrary,” the court said.
Senior advocate Neeraj Kishan Kaul, appearing for Priyanka’s brother Rajib Sharma, told the bench that despite the apex court’s Tuesday order granting her bail she had to spend another night behind the bars.
Kaul told the bench that jail authorities Tuesday told them that they have to either bring certified copies of the apex court’s order or approach the court of the chief judicial magistrate concerned for her release.
“If she is not released, the consequences will follow,” the bench said and warned it will issue contempt to officials concerned if Sharma was not released from jail immediately.
“She should be released from jail within half an hour,” the bench said.
Kaul then told the court that the petitioner has moved a separate application which said that though a closure report in the case was filed in the trial court on May 13, the apex court was not informed about it during Tuesday’s hearing.
“If the Supreme Court was informed yesterday that the closure report has been filed in the trial court, then the apex court might not have asked her to apologise,” Kaul said.
A closure report is filed by police when it has no evidence to proceed against an accused. A magistrate is at liberty to accept or reject the report. If the magistrate is in agreement with the police report, the case is closed.
Sharma was accused of sharing on Facebook an image in which Banerjee’s face was photoshopped onto actor Priyanka Chopra’s picture from the MET Gala event in New York.
Her arrest had provoked protests by the BJP and social media users.