Anti-Modi Covid posters case: PIL filed in Supreme Court

A public interest litigation (PIL) filed in the Supreme Court on Monday sought to have as many as 24 cases, filed against those who had allegedly pasted posters questioning Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis, quashed and the arrested persons released.

The petition, filed by advocate Pradeep Kumar Yadav, argued that the cases were prima facie illegal since the persons had been arrested in connection with the legitimate exercise of their right to free speech which later on went viral on social media.

Freedom of speech and expression with regard to a public cause is a fundamental right of every citizen under the Constitution, the petition argued.

Contrary to earlier rulings of the top court barring the executive from arresting critical voices, 24 cases have been filed against small-time tradesmen and people who had pasted posters critical of the government and the PM’s handling of the pandemic, it said.

At least 25 such cases were filed under the Prevention of Defacement of Property Act, Delhi Disaster Management Act and the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

Some of the first information reports have been filed under the Press and Registration of Books Act, Section 34 of the IPC, which deals with common intention, and Section 269 of the IPC, which makes any act wilfully and negligently likely to spread the infection of any disease dangerous to life an offence.

The petition claimed that some persons had been arrested in this connection and had been set free on bail. Most of them were questioned on whether they had pasted these posters voluntarily. In some cases, such material had been recovered from the persons.

Further investigation was underway, it said.

Opposition leaders such as Jairam Ramesh of the Congress had also questioned these arrests for merely questioning the export of vaccines during a pandemic, said the petition.

The Uttar Pradesh chief secretary, Delhi Police commissioner and the Union cabinet secretary have been made parties to the case.

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