Mamata meme: BJP worker gets bail, is told to apologise in writing

Apology would send a wrong message, says BJP's Poonam Mahajan

By The Telegraph in New Delhi
  • Published 14.05.19, 11:58 PM
  • Updated 14.05.19, 11:58 PM
  • 2 mins read
  •  
When the Supreme Court bench asked if Priyanka Sharma was willing to apologise, the lawyer said it would have a 'chilling' effect on free speech. Telegraph file picture

The Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed bail to Priyanka Sharma, the BJP youth wing worker who had circulated a morphed photograph of Priyanka Chopra with Mamata Banerjee's head on it, but asked her to apologise in writing after her release.

The vacation bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Indira Banerjee observed that freedom of speech ends when it infringes upon others' rights.

Twenty-five-year-old Sharma was arrested on May 10 under Section 500 (defamation) of the Indian Penal Code.  

Hearing the matter on Tuesday, the bench had initially kept bail conditional to the written apology by Sharma. The court later called back Sharma’s lawyer, senior advocate Neeraj Kishan Kaul, and said the bail would be granted anyway.

When the bench asked if Sharma was willing to apologise, Kaul said it would have a "chilling" effect on free speech. There have been so many caricatures and cartoons of BJP leaders, but nothing happened in those instances, the lawyer pointed out, adding that a meme is just political satire.

But Justice Banerjee said that "freedom of expression is non-negotiable but it cannot encroach on the rights of another". The bench said "it is wrong to put one's face on to some other person". 

The bench also said that because Sharma belonged to a political party, the other side may be offended.

Soon after the court order, BJP leader Poonam Mahajan did a press conference at the BJP headquarters in New Delhi to target Mamata’s governance of Bengal, calling her “Hitler Didi”.

“'Samvidhan khatre mein hai' yeh har waqt bolne wale log apne pradesh mein jis prakar se samvidhan ki dhajjiyaan uda rahe hain (People often found saying that the ‘Constitution is in danger’ are ripping it apart in their state),” said Mahajan.

“Today, the Supreme Court gave an order to release Priyanka Sharma immediately. It is a proof that anarchy has spread across West Bengal today and freedom of expression is being strangulated under Mamata didi’s rule.”

Mahajan added that the “direction of apology sends a wrong message on the question of free speech”. She also said that this is a warning for the youth that in Bengal they’ll have to live in fear where you can’t express yourself.

In 2012, professor Ambikesh Mahapatra in Calcutta was rounded up and put behind bars for a night for circulating a cartoon lampooning Mamata.

The bench today made it clear that its order was “made in the special facts and circumstances of this case” and shall not be a precedent.