‘Judge Bashing Is Not Constructive Criticism’: HC Wants Abusive Social Media Posts Taken Down

The court was hearing last year's case on issuing contempt notices to several persons related to the government for allegedly posting objectionable content against judges on social media.

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New Delhi: The Andhra Pradesh high court has observed that “judge bashing has become a favourite pass time for some people”, and directed Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube to take down abusive contents against judges within 36 hours, Live Law reported.

The court also directed that YouTube should block the channel named “Punch Prabhakar”, which was posting abusive videos against judges.

In a politically polarised environment, the judges have become soft targets for the organised campaigns. “Political rivals become active on social media, attempts are made to influence the proceedings and intimidate the judges. After the judgments/orders are passed, the aggrieved party vigorously starts a vilification campaign by imputing motives to the judges and attempts are made to malign the institutional reputation,” Justice Kanneganti observed in the order.

“‘Judge bashing’ and using derogatory and contemptuous language against judges has become a favourite pass time of some people. These statements tend to scandalise and lower the authority of the courts and cannot be permitted because, for functioning of a democracy, an independent judiciary to dispense justice without fear and favour is paramount… ‘judge bashing’ is not and cannot be a substitute for constructive criticism,” the order said.

A division bench of Chief Justice Prashant Kumar Mishra and Justice Lalitha Kanneganti made these observations while hearing last year’s case on issuing suo moto contempt notices to several persons related to the government for allegedly posting objectionable content on social media.

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On May 27, 2020, the Andhra Pradesh high court issued notices to 49 persons, including a member of parliament and a former MLA, for allegedly posting abusive comments, including remarks on caste, on the judiciary and judges who had passed a verdict against the YSR Congress government.

The high court then directed the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to investigate the allegations against the judges.

In November 2020, the CBI lodged a first information report (FIR) against 16 individuals for defaming judges of the Supreme Court and high courts on social media.

According to the FIR, as per India Today, key personnel occupying posts of prominence in the state of Andhra Pradesh had posted “abusive, life-threatening and intimidating” posts against the judges on Facebook and Twitter. The posts were related to some court judgments and orders.

However, on October 29, the bench expressed dissatisfaction at the progress of the CBI investigation, and sought for an affidavit by the CBI director as to what transpired after December 2020, and the efforts taken by it, Live Law reported.

On the whereabouts of Punch Prabhakar, the superintendent of police, CBI, Vishakhapattanam, told the high court that the agency is taking FBI’s help to catch hold of him as he’s a resident of the US. However, there has been no progress in the case so far, Live Law reported him as saying.

On September 2, the probe agency filed a chargesheet against YSR Congress supporter, Lingareddy Rajasekhar Reddy, for allegedly publishing objectionable posts on social media over various verdicts against the government. In July, the CBI had found incriminating documents during a raid at his residence. The probe agency had also arrested him.

Ten days later, the CBI filed four separate chargesheets against four accused before a competent court in Andhra Pradesh’s Guntur in a similar case.

According to the chargesheet, as per the news website, two of the accused were operating Facebook accounts with the names — “Kondareddy Dhanireddy YSRCP” and “Guntur Metropolis”, which posted objectionable content on the social media platform.