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Person Forwarding Social Media Message Liable For Its Contents: Madras High Court.

TITLE: S. Ve. Shekher Vs. Al. Gopalsamy and Ors.

Decided On: July 14, 2023

Crl.O.P.(MD) Nos.11494 & 12163 of 2018, Crl.O.P.Nos.5099 of 2019 & 6211 of 2021 &all connected pending Crl.M.Ps.

CORAM:  Hon’ble Mr. Justice N. Anand Venkatesh.

Introduction: 

The Madras High Court has recently refused to quash batch of criminal proceedings initiated against actor and BJP politician S.Ve Sheker for his derogatory remarks against women journalists. The cases were registered after Sheker had forwarded an abusive, derogatory and vulgar comment on his Facebook account in April 2018. Though Shekher claimed that he had merely forwarded the message received from one Mr Thirumalai Sa without reading its contents, and had later removed the derogatory post on the same day and offered apologies, the court noted that these acts would not help Shekher from facing consequences for forwarding a derogatory message. Justice Anand Venkatesh noted that Shekher was a person of high stature with many followers and he ought to have exercised more caution while forwarding messages.

Facts:

The petitioner in all these petitions is a past Member of the Legislative Assembly representing Mylapore Constituency during the years 2006-2011. The petitioner is said to have published/circulated an abusive, derogatory and vulgar comment in his facebook account on 19.4.2018. Pursuant to that, a complaint came to be given before the Commissioner of Police, Chennai to take action against the petitioner for having posted such a derogatory comment in his facebook account. Accordingly, a first information report was registered in Cr.No.148 of 2018 for offences under Sections 504, 505(1)(c) and 509 of the Indian Penal Code (hereinafter called the IPC) and Section 4 of the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Harassment of Women Act, 2002 on the file of theInspector of Police, Cyber Crime Cell, Central Crime Branch, Chennai, who is none other than  first respondent in Crl.O.P.No.6211 of 2021. The first information report was investigated by the concerned Inspector of Police and on completion of the investigation, a final report came to be filed before the Assistant Sessions Court, Additional Special Court for Trial of Cases relating to MPs and MLAs, Singaravelar Maligai, Chennai-1 (for short, the Special Court) in C.C.No.62 of 2019 and it has been put to challenge by the petitioner in Crl.O.P.No.6211 of  2021. For the same cause of action, private complaints were filedagainst the petitioner in various parts of Tamil Nadu. The complaint filed before the Judicial Magistrate No.2, Karur, which was taken on file in C.C.No.223 of 2018, has been put to challenge in Crl.O.P.(MD) No.12163 of 2018. The complaint filed before the Judicial Magistrate No.1, Tirunelveli, which was taken on file in C.C.No.154 of 2018, has been challenged in Crl.O.P.(MD) No.11494 of 2018. Similarly, The complaint filed before the Judicial Magistrate, Ambattur, which was taken on file in S.T.C.No.276 of 2018, has been put to challenge in Crl.O.P.No.5099 of 2019

Legal Analysis and Decision:

The court noted that in the present case, the message forwarded by Shekher caused an insult to journalists, and more particularly to women journalists which also resulted in a demonstration in front of his house and violence. Thus, the court noted that all the ingredient necessary to satisfy the offence of S.504 IPC (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace) existed and the offence was made out. The court added that the message forwarded by Shekher induced commission of an offence against public tranquility since there was a hue and cry across the State immediately after the incident. Thus the court noted that the offence under S.505(1)(c) IPC was also made out. Since the message posted by Shekher virtually outrages the modesty of woman and since it also contained indecent and vitriolic attack on a particular woman and other women Press reporters, the offences under S. 509 IPC and S.4 of the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Harassment of Women Act 2002 were also attracted. The court added that a person forwarding a message must be construed to acknowledge the contents of the message. The court said that when a person got a dopamine high by looking at the likes for the forwarded message, he should be equally prepared to face the consequence, if that message had derogatory content. The court also noted that since a large body was affected due to the act of the petitioner, he could not be let away just because he tendered an apology. The court added that of such a route was allowed, any person could make such statements and subsequently apologise and get away.

“However, in the instant case, it is not a dispute between two individuals and the act of the petitioner has virtually painted the entire Press and more particularly the women Reporters with vulgar comments and when such a large body is affected due to the act of the petitioner, he cannot be let away just because he tendered an apology. if such an easy route is adopted, anyone can make such statements, cause damage, subsequently apologize for his act and get away from the action taken against him,” the court noted.

Conclusion:

The court observed that Shekher’s apology could not be acted upon and the criminal proceedings against him could not be quashed on that ground alone. So, the court refused to quash the proceedings against Shekher and dismissed the petition. However, noting that Shekher could not be made to move from one court to another to face proceedings vasted on the very same cause of action, the court transferred all the criminal proceedings to the Special Court, Singaravelar Maligai.

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JUDGEMENT REVIEWED BY JANGAM SHASHIDHAR.

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