SC grants bail to BJP activist on Mamata meme

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday granted bail to BJP Yuva Morcha leader Priyanka Sharma, who was arrested for a meme on West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

A vacation bench comprising Justices Indira Banerjee and Sanjiv Khanna observed that freedom of speech ends when it infringes upon others’ rights. They said Sharma should apologize in writing upon her release from jail for posting the morphed picture of Banerjee.

The bench noted that Sharma is not a common person, instead a member of a political party, therefore, the insinuation of posting such a picture has a different meaning from those shared by common people.

“The detenue shall, however, at the time of release, tender an apology in writing for putting up/sharing the pictures on her Facebook account,” said the court.

Sharma’s counsel Neeraj Kishan Kaul vehemently argued against the apology sought by the court.

“She has not created the meme but is sharing it enough for arrest?… This is something like a caricature, kind of an evolving political satire. It (the arrest) will set a wrong trend.”

The bench observed that though freedom of speech is non-negotiable but “your freedom of speech ends when it infringes upon others’ rights”.

Initially, the court had ordered Sharma to be released on bail on the subject that she should tender an apology. Sharma’s counsel contested this condition and said that an apology would have a chilling effect on freedom of speech.

Later, the court modified the order stating immediate release of Sharma, and upon her release, she should tender an apology.

“It is made clear that this order is being made keeping in mind the special facts and circumstances and this case shall not operate as a precedent,” said the court.

Sharma’s counsel argued that actions on sharing a meme, specially the incident of arrest, will set in a series of consequences.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader was accused of sharing on social media a photo of the Trinamool Congress supremo photo-shopped on a picture of Bollywood actor Priyanka Chopra from last week’s MET Gala event in New York City.

Sharma was arrested on May 10 on a complaint by a Trinamool Congress leader under Section 500 (Defamation) of the Indian Penal Code and under other provisions of the Information Technology Act.

The court also issued a notice to the West Bengal government seeking its response regarding the prosecution of a political leader for sharing an alleged “objectionable post” referring it to a political satire.

The court has listed the matter after court vacations that ends on June 30.