Criticism of an organization cannot be taken as a criticism of a community. – Madras High Court

“Indecent” relates to something morally offensive because it involves sex or being naked. “Scurrilous” means something that is very rude and insulting and intended to damage somebody’s reputation. “Blackmail” refers to the crime of demanding money from a person by threatening to make a revelation about him. I have relied on the meanings assigned to the said expressions in Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary. These were stated and observed by the bench of Honourable Mr. Justice G. R. Swaminathan in the case of Maridhas v. State Rep. By, The Inspector of Police & Anr. (CRL.O.P.(MD)NO. 20560 OF 2021)

The crux of the case is the respondent herein is a member of Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam. After watching the video uploaded by the petitioner on the YouTube he lodged information before the first respondent on the next day leading to registration of the impugned FIR. In his complaint, the second respondent alleged that the petitioner had falsely spoken that the attendees of Tablighi Jamaat conference held in March 2020 at New Delhi were spreading Covid-19; he also insulted Islam with an intention to create ill-will and discord between Muslims and non-Muslims.

The learned counsel appearing for the petitioner reiterated the contentions set out in the memorandum of grounds and contended that the petitioner as a responsible YouTuber and commentator on current affairs had merely exercised his right to free speech. According to him, the petitioner had not committed any of the offences set out in the FIR.

The bench of Honourable Mr. Justice G. R. Swaminathan quashed the impugned FIR while referring the case of Vinod Dua vs. Union of India (UOI) and Ors. (AIR 2021 SC 3239), observed and statedThe petitioner as a YouTuber actively commenting on current issues is entitled to the protection of Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. The petitioner has relied solely on the news resources then available in the public domain. Criticism of an organization cannot be taken as a criticism of a community. Tablighi Jamaat cannot be equated with Islam. It is a religious organization professing particular goals. No one can deny that Tablighi Jamaat came under severe and harsh criticism for its reckless and irresponsible conduct during March 2020. There are established reports that its puritanical and revivalistic project prepares the ground for islamic radiclation. Probably that is why even Saudi Arabia has recently banned it as a terrorist organization.

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Judgement reviewed by Himanshu Ranjan

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