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Defamatory Content By Publuc Figure Is Of Serious Gravity : Delhi High Court Refuses To Quash Summons Against Arvind Kejriwal

Sanskriti Tiwari ,
  08 February 2024       Share Bookmark

Court :
High Court of Delhi
Brief :

Citation :
2024 DHC 820

CASE NAME:

Arvind Kejriwal vs State and Anr

DATE OF THE CASE:

5th February, 2024

PARTIES:-

Petitioner: Arvind Kejriwal

Respondent: State

BENCH/JUDGE: Hon’ble Ms. Justice Swarna Kanta Sharma

IMPORTANT PROVISIONS:-

  1. Section 499 IPC:-

Section 499 of the IPC defines defamation. According to this section, any person who makes or publishes any false imputation or allegation relating to any person, by words either spoken or written or by signs or visible representations, is said to defame that person. However, it must be done to harm the reputation of such a person against whom the imputation has been made.

 

  1. Section 257 CrPC:-

It talks about termination of criminal proceedings. Once the complainant withdraws the complaint under Section 257, this would mark an end to the proceedings, hence, resulting in the termination of criminal proceedings.

 

  1. Section 482 CrPC:-

It talks about the inherent powers of the High Court.

 

SUBJECT:-

The case revolves around the defamation case filed by Vikas Sanskrityayanc claiming that the video circulated by YouTuber, Dhruv Rathee contained certain false and defamatory allegations and Kejriwal’s retweet has damaged his reputation. The petitioner argued that the retweet does not satisfy the essential ingredients of defamation. The court upheld the summoning order stating that retweeting defamatory content in online interactions or by public figures can influence public opinion.

 

OVERVIEW:-

The case involves a complaint filed by respondent no. 2, Sh. Vikas Sankritayan, against petitioner Sh. Arvind Kejriwal. The complaint is related to alleged defamation arising from the retweeting of a video by Sh. Dhruv Rathee, wherein defamatory statements were made against respondent no. 2. Sh. Arvind Kejriwal, after being summoned as an accused, sought to challenge the orders through a revision petition, which was dismissed. The petitioner is now approaching the court under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure to set aside the summoning order and the dismissal of the revision petition.

 

ISSUES RAISED BEFORE THE COURT:-

  1. Will every retweet attract action under section 499 of IPC?
  2. Whether petitioner is liable to be summoned for his act of retweeting the allegedly defamatory content?

 

CONTENTIONS RAISED BY THE PETITIONER:-

  • Sh. Manish Vashishth, representing the petitioner, contends that the Trial Court mechanically summoned the petitioner, presuming the alleged defamatory statements without proper examination.
  • It is argued that the retweet in question does not meet the essential ingredients of defamation, as it lacks the intent to harm or knowledge that it would harm the reputation of the person concerned.
  • It is highlighted that the statements made by the complainant are hearsay and expressing dismay does not constitute defamation.
  • The petitioner's counsel asserts that the petitioner neither created nor published the video in question, challenging the applicability of Section 499 of IPC regarding publication.
  • The petitioner argues that the Trial Court failed to consider exceptions provided under Section 499 of IPC, including the exception of public good.
  • The withdrawal of the earlier complaint against the petitioner, leading to dropping of proceedings, is raised as a point, claiming that this withdrawal amounts to acquittal as per Section 257 of Cr.P.C.
  • The petitioner also questions the respondent's change in statements, alleging mala-fide intentions and oblique motives, pointing out the inconsistency in the complainant's versions.

 

CONTENTIONS RAISED BY THE RESPONDENT:-

Sh. Raghav Awasthi, representing respondent no. 2, contends that the allegations against his client are false, malicious, and defamatory, damaging his reputation.

The argument stresses that the petitioner, being the Chief Minister of Delhi, retweeted the video without verifying its authenticity, leading to a wide dissemination of the defamatory content both nationally and internationally.

The respondent asserts that the impugned orders are sound, as the Trial Court rightly summoned the petitioner based on a prima facie case of defamation, emphasizing that the issues raised by the petitioner are triable.

It is submitted that the withdrawal of the earlier complaint against the petitioner was due to jurisdictional concerns, and the respondent had no choice but to withdraw and file a fresh complaint in a court competent to handle cases involving MPs/MLAs.

 

ANALYSIS BY THE COURT:-

  • The court observed that respondent no. 2 has withdrawn his complaint purely on the grounds of lack of jurisdiction.
  • It noted that the petitioner was not present before the court when the complaint was withdrawn as he was not summoned. Therefore, the trial could not begin and such cases could not be dealt under section 257 of the CrPC.
  • The court interpreted the definition of defamation and noted that a person retweeting a defamatory content, which has the potential of causing reputational injury to a person, cannot wriggle out of his responsibility by merely contending that it was a retweet and not the original tweet. Therefore, retweeting or reposting defamatory content would amount to defamation.
  • The Court further observed that though all the defamatory retweets will fall within the purview of publication under Section 499 of IPC, but it is upon the aggrieved to decide which retweet has more potential to defame the concerned person.
  • The Court noted that if any defamatory content is retweeted as one’s own content, then the original author will also be equally liable if the complaint is filed against him.
  • The court highlighted that such actions could attract action against civil and tort law.
  • The Court does not find any reason to interfere with the order of summoning by the Trial Court.

 

JUDGMENT:-

The court held that, “freedom of expression is essential in a democratic setup to spread one’s opinion, however, it cannot extend to the extent of affecting the right of the people not to be defamed. In case, the act of retweeting or reposting is allowed to be misused since it is still considered to be a vacant grey area of law where the sapling of jurisprudence as to whether retweeting defamatory content will be considered publication or not is yet to take place, it will encourage people with ill intentions to misuse this vacant field of law and therefore, despite retweeting the defamatory content, the accused can thereafter conveniently take a plea that he had merely retweeted a content. In this background, this Court holds that retweeting or reposting defamatory content, without any disclaimer as to whether the person so retweeting agrees or disagrees or has verified the content so posted or not, and as to whether he projected to the world at large, who care to follow him, that he believes the content to be true so shared, a person would be republishing the original defamatory content which has the potential of lowering the moral or intellectual character or credit of a person”.

 

CONCLUSION:-

At times, it is difficult to erase the reputational injury from public memory, as the tweets may be deleted but perceptions are difficult to be deleted from the minds of the community. The Court, thus, for the purpose of adjudicating the present case, holds that retweeting a content, which is allegedly defamatory, on the Twitter account and projecting it to be as if his own views, will prima facie attract the liability under Section 499 of IPC, for the purpose of issuance of summons. Therefore, the Court finds no infirmity with the impugned orders passed by the learned Trial Court as well as learned Sessions Court. Accordingly, the present petition stands dismissed.

 
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