Centre to examine prayers in plea seeking steps to control “hate speech”, “rumour mongering”

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Solicitor General Tushar Mehta on Friday sought permission from the apex court to examine the prayers in a plea seeking disqualification of persons from contesting elections if they are found to be engaging in Hate speech.

A bench of Justice AM Khanwilkar and Justice Abhay S Oka noted that SG Mehta has undertaken to examine the issues in the plea and file a response this regard.

The bench was hearing a plea filed by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Ashwini Upadhyay, the petition states that injury to the citizens is extremely large because hate speech and rumor mongering has the potential of provoking individuals or society to commit acts of terrorism, genocide, ethnic cleansing etc.

Senior Advocate Vikas Singh appearing for the petitioner submitted while referring to the judgment in the case of Pravasi Bhalai Sangathan submitted that it has been recorded that the Law Commission is considering hate speech as a ground for disqualification from elections.

It is argued that hate speech is outside the realm of protective discourse and has devastating effects on people’s lives and risks their health and safety.

"Hate Speech is harmful & divisive for communities and hampers social progress. If left unchecked, hate speech can severely affect not only the rule of law but also right to life, liberty and dignity of the citizens."

It is further submitted that incitement to violence should not be the sole test for determining whether a speech amounts to hate speech or not. The plea thus avers,

"Even speech that does not incite violence has the potential of marginalizing a certain section of society or individual. In the age of information technology and social media, the anonymity of internet allows a miscreant to easily spread false and offensive ideas. These ideas need not always incite violence but they might perpetuate the discriminatory attitudes prevalent in the society."

Filed through Advocate Ashwani Dubey, the petitioner also relies on the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2017 which had suggested the insertion of new Section 153C (Prohibiting incitement to hatred) and Section 505A (Causing fear, alarm, or provocation of violence in certain cases) by the Law Commission of India while preparing its 267th Report for consideration of the Government.

Noting that the Law Commission's recommendations can serve as guidelines for developing hate speech jurisprudence, the petitioner further seeks a direction to declare that sentence for committing Offences Against Public Tranquility, Offences Relating to Elections, Offences Relating to Religion and Offences Relating to Criminal Intimidation, Insult and Annoyance to be consecutive, not concurrent.

Cause Title: Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay v Union of India