Being tagged in controversial social media post does not confer any liability to be prosecuted: Calcutta High Court

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Court said that it is of imprudence to subject any person to face trial in a criminal case based on mere assumptions in the absence of criminal intent.

The Calcutta High Court has recently dismissed criminal proceedings against a school teacher who was accused of spreading communal enmity and violence through Facebook comments. The court ruled that being tagged in social media comments by any individual "does not confer any liability or responsibility" on the individual.

The single judge bench of Justice Ananya Bandyopadhyay observed, “Being tagged in the space of comments on social media at the instance of any other person necessarily does not confer any liability or responsibility on the person being tagged with or express unanimity of the comment or its essence thereof constructively. The complaint presupposes the occurrence of a riot but did not state any incident of such occurrence as an offshoot of such Facebook post.”

On the basis of a complaint filed by the complainant on May 6, 2021, a case under Section 504, Section 505, Section 506 and Section 120B of IPC was registered against the petitioner and other persons on the basis of the allegation of spreading communal hatred and violence amongst the people of society through comments on Facebook profiles of certain persons.

The petitioner approached the high court for quashing the proceedings and the counsel for the petitioner argued that he was falsely implicated as a result of competing political ideologies with the ulterior motive of wreaking retribution on meritless grounds. Further, it was argued that the allegations in the FIR did not disclose a cognizable offence, justifying an investigation by police officers under Section 156(1) of the CrPC absent a Magistrate's order under Section 155(2) of the CrPC.

It was argued that the alleged social media post was uploaded by someone else and that the petitioner was merely tagged in the post, which caused it to appear on his Facebook profile. It was argued that the petitioner was neither the author of the post nor did he intend to spread religious animosity in order to incite riots among West Bengal's diverse communities.

The counsel for the State argued that the existence of evidence implicating the petitioner and his involvement will be established through the trial process and that the proceedings should not be annulled at this early stage.

Court said, “It is of imprudence to subject any person to face trial in a criminal case based on mere assumptions and suspicion in the absence of criminal intent or ulterior motive for accomplishing any wrongful act. Therefore, to allow the petitioner to face trial will result in abuse of the process of law.”

The court noted that the complaint dated May 6, 2021, and the statements recorded under Section 161 CrPC did not specify the specific act of the present petitioner that would constitute the elements of an offence under the aforementioned provisions of the IPC.

It also noted that the complaint presumed the occurrence of a disturbance, but did not identify any riot-related incidents as a result of the Facebook post. Accordingly, the court quashed the criminal proceedings.

Case Title: Sri Protip Roy Basunia vs. The State of West Bengal & Anr.

Statute: The Indian Penal Code