A plea has been moved in the Supreme Court seeking quashing of multiple FIRs registered by Delhi Police for putting up posters criticizing Prime Minister Narendra Modi for exporting Covid-19 vaccines.
The petition, filed by advocate Pradeep Kumar Yadav, said that posters were found pasted on walls and boards with the message: "Modi ji humare bachon ka vaccine videsh kyon bhej diya?" (Why did you send our children's vaccines abroad?).
Police, in all the districts where the posters were found, registered FIRs under the Prevention of Defacement of Property Act, the Delhi Disaster Management Act and the Indian Penal Code, and arrets started late on May 12 after the Special Branch informed Delhi Police Commissioner S.N. Shrivastava about the posters.
At least 24 people were arrested but granted bail after initial questioning as provisions invoked in the matter were bailable. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and AAP members dared the police to arrest them too, as they shared the posters on their social media posts.
The plea urged the top court to issue directions to Delhi Police to refrain from registering FIRs or act against those who put up the posters across the national capital over the past few days, contending that the apex court, in a number of cases, has held that freedom of speech and expression in connection with public cause was a fundamental right of every citizen, which was guaranteed under the Constitution.
Shreya Singhal case
The petitioner also cited the Shreya Singhal case where the top court set aside Section 66A of Information Technology (IT) Act, and held information sharing on the social media does not constitute any criminal offence under the IT Act.
"Recently this court in the case of suo motu WP (C) 3 of 2021 titled distribution of essential supplies and services during pandemic has passed a specific direction to the respondent state authorities not to register any criminal case over the public seeking medical help in the social media. In contrary to above decision of this court, the authorities are registering FIR against the innocent persons over their hate speech against the PM with regard to his official functions over the second wave of Covid-19 crises and Government vaccine policies," said the plea.
The plea cited that a 19-year-old school dropout, a 30-year-old e-rickshaw driver, and a 61-year-old maker of wooden frames were among the people arrested by Delhi Police, in the middle of the pandemic.