New Delhi: The Karnataka high court has imposed a cost of Rs 10,000 each on two police officers for registering an FIR under Section 66 (A) of the Information Technology Act, which the Supreme Court had struck down in 2015.
Justice P.S. Dinesh Kumar has also asked the officers to tender unconditional apologies and promise the mistake will not repeated in personal affidavits.
Assistant sub-inspector M. Somanna and inspector Ravi Patil will pay the cost to the high court’s registrar general within a period of four weeks, reported LiveLaw.
The law news portal has quoted the judge as having said:
“This is a case in which police have initiated criminal proceedings invoking provisions of law which is not in statute book. Police have initially recorded the complaint as NCR and for reasons best known the very same officer has registered FIR after one week. This is nothing but a clear abuse of process of law and harassment to the citizen.”
The FIR had been registered at the Srirampura police station in April, 2019. One Sharada D.R. had sought the quashing of the FIR, citing that even though the section had been struck down, police had been investigating the ‘offence’ which was charged under it.
The section punishes the ‘sending of offensive messages through communication services’. According to it,
Any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or a communication device,—
(a) any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character; or
(b) any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill will, persistently by making use of such computer resource or a communication device,
(c) any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience or to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages,
shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine.
In the 2015 Shreya Singhal v. Union of India case, the Supreme Court had struck it down, declaring it a violation of freedom of speech and expression.
Before the Supreme Court overturned the law, it was mostly used to arrest peaceful critics of politicians or state policies, Jayshree Bajoria had noted in an article for The Wire.
Many in India and around the world welcomed the decision as a big win for freedom of expression online.
However, police continue to register cases under it. The above report also notes instances closer to 2015 when police registered cases under the section.
Yes ! Despite S66A being struck down, officers indiscriminately used it to charge people for harmless posts. Hopefully, this will create some awareness & deter them indulging from in useless prosecution.
— Radhika Roy (@royradhika7) January 17, 2020
An article by the Internet Freedom Foundation, to gauge the status of the strike down of the section, noted that in an order dated February 15, 2019, the Supreme Court had directed that copies of the Shreya Singhal judgment should be sent to high courts, district courts, chief secretaries and director generals of police.
RTIs filed by the Foundation with various state high courts and the central government to check compliance with these directions revealed that a few state high courts had indeed received the copies while chief secretaries had not been informed.