In Context

    • Congress leader Rahul Gandhi moved a petition before the Bombay High Court seeking quashing of the defamation case filed against him.

    What’s the issue?

    • The case was filed by Mahesh Shrishrimal before the Girgaon magistrate court in 2018. It states that Rahul Gandhi called Prime Minister Narendra Modi ‘Commander in Thief’. Mr Shrishrimal felt defamed since he was a member of his party.
    • The petition to quash the defamation case was filed by Rahul Gandhi.

    What is Defamation?

    • About:
      • It is an injury to the reputation of a person resulting from a statement that is false.
      • Anyone who feels he or she has been wrongly accused of something by someone in public, through words or gestures, spoken, written, or by inference can file a defamation suit in a court of law claiming that the accusation levelled deals a blow to his/her reputation.
      • Defamation essentially must fulfil the following requirements:
        • The statement must be published (both oral and written forms publication)
        • The statement must lower the estimation of the person (damaging to the reputation of the person against whom charges have been made)
    • Respective sections of IPC:
      • IPC Section 499 lays down the definition of defamation and Section 500 lays down the punishment for criminal defamation (two years’ imprisonment for a person found guilty of defamation).
    • Types of defamation:
      • There are two types of defamation in India: Civil and Criminal.
        • Civil defamation: Under this, a person who is defamed can move either High Court or subordinate courts and seek damages in the form of monetary compensation. There is no punishment in the form of a jail sentence.
        • Criminal Defamation: Under this, the person against whom a defamation case is filed might be sentenced to two years’ imprisonment or fined or both.

    Arguments against defamation law/ Concerns

    • Freedom of speech and expression of media is important for a vibrant democracy and the threat of prosecution alone is enough to suppress the truth. Many times the influential people misuse this provision to suppress any voices against them.
    • The criminal provisions have often been used purely as a means of harassment
    • The right to reputation cannot be extended to collectives such as the government, which has the resources to set right damage to their reputations.
    • It goes against the global trend of decriminalizing defamation, many countries, including neighbouring Sri Lanka, have decriminalized defamation.

    Law of Defamation and Right to Free Speech

    The Supreme Court recently upheld the validity of the criminal defamation law.

    • According to Supreme Court:
      • The Reputation of an individual, constituent in Article 21 is an equally important right as free speech.
      • The criminalization of defamation to protect individual dignity and reputation is a “reasonable restriction”.
      • Editors have to take responsibility for everything they publish as it has far-reaching consequences in an individual and country’s life.
      • The acts of expression should be looked at both from the perspective of the speaker and the place at which he speaks, the audience etc.

    Source: TH