Calcutta HC quashes FIR against Port Blair journalist for tweet questioning govt’s COVID quarantine policy
‘The allegation in the FIR appears to be absurd and no prudent person can ever reach a just conclusion that there is sufficient ground for proceeding against the accused/petitioner,’ Calcutta HC said
The Calcutta High Court has quashed an FIR registered against a Port Blair-based journalist, Zubair Ahmad for his tweet questioning the COVID quarantine policy adopted by the government.
Quashing the FIR, the Bench of Justice Shivakant Prasad on Wednesday observed: "...allowing the criminal proceeding in terms of the FIR registered against the petitioner would amount to sheer abuse of process of law and misuse of power of the Court as the allegation in the FIR appears to be absurd and no prudent person can ever reach a just conclusion that there is sufficient ground for proceeding against the accused/petitioner," Live Law has reported.
The petitioner had tweeted on 26th April, 2020 that: "Request #Covid 19 quarantine persons not to call any acquaintance over phone. People are being traced and quarantined on the basis of phone calls. #StaySafeStayHome"
Again, on 27th April, 2020, he had tweeted that: "Can someone explain why families are placed under home quarantine for speaking over phone with covid patients?." @MediaRN_ANI @Andaman_Admn".
Based on these two tweets, an FIR had been registered against him under sections 51 and 54 of the Disaster Management Act 2005 read with sections 188, 269, 270, 505(1)(b) of the Indian Penal Code.
Regarding section 51 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, which speaks of punishment for disobedience of regulations and obstruction to an officer or employee of the Central government or state government or a refusal to comply with the direction given by or on behalf of the Central government or the state government, the applicant argued that there was no such case as it would transpire from and on perusal of the tweets given by the petitioner.
Similarly, regarding section 54 of Act 2005, it was contended that the same was not attracted as the tweet does not relate to any alarm or warning in relation to a disaster, neither is the case of the state that the tweet made by the petitioner had resulted to be a panic.
Further, regarding Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code, which relates to disobedience to order duly promulgated by a public servant lawfully empowered to promulgate such order, the applicant submitted that there was no disobedience of any order passed by the authority causing obstruction or annoyance or injury to any persons.
The court observed that Section 195 of the CrPC provides that no court shall take cognizance of any offence punishable under Sections 172 to 188 of the Indian Penal Code, except on the complaint in writing to a public servant concerned or of some other public servant to whom he is administratively empowered.
In the instant case, the FIR had been lodged at the instance of the Aberdeen Police Station and initiation of the proceeding and the prosecution against the petitioner was not at the instance of a person lodging complaint before the court, it said.