In a very significant ruling last week, the High Court of Jammu & Kashmir ruled that there are restrictions to the free speech and statements like the military has occupied Jammu & Kashmir and people of Jammu & Kashmir have been reduced to slaves will not get any protection under the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.
“In my opinion, the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under the Constitution cannot be stretched to such a limit as to allow a person to question the status of a part of the country or its people. It is one thing to criticise the government for its negligence and express outrage on the violation of human rights of the people but it is quite another to advocate that the people of a particular part of the country are slaves of the government of India or that they are under occupation of armed forces of the Country,” Justice Sanjay Dhar said.
Justice Dhar was hearing a petition filed by advocate Muzamil Butt. Advocate Butt had sought to quash an FIR lodged against him for charges under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). He was booked for his Facebook posts criticising the killings of eight civilians in violence that took place at Laroo village, Kulgam district.
The Bench had noted that Advocate Butt had expressed outrage and condemnation of certain incidents, which was well within his right to free speech. However, his other posts, in which he went to the extent of implying that Kashmir has been occupied by the military, which is like cancer, and that the people of Kashmir are like slaves of the government, did not qualify for protection under Article 19 of the Constitution.
“By making these comments, he is certainly advocating and supporting the claim that Jammu and Kashmir is not a part of India and that it is occupied by Indian military with the people having being reduced to the status of slaves. Thus, he is questioning the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Country,” Justice Dhar noted.
He further added, “The petitioner, by uploading these posts, has cross the Lakshman Rekha which demarcates the freedom of expression guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution of India from the reasonable restrictions imposed on such freedom on the ground of sovereignty and integrity of India. The intention of a person can be gathered from the words spoken or written or other expressions. Therefore, the expressions used by the petitioner, who happens to be a law knowing person, clearly shows that he intended to advocate a particular ideology which supports the claim of cessions of Jammu and Kashmir, which is an integral part of India.”
In June last year, the Supreme Court had quashed a sedition case filed against journalist Vinod Dua by the Himachal Pradesh police.
Touching upon the Vinod Dua case when the petitioner’s advocate brought it up, Justice Dhar distinguished it from the present case of Advocate Butt. The Bench said, “This is so because in Vinod Dua’s case (supra), the petitioner therein who happened to be a journalist, had criticised the functioning of the Government of the day and he had not supported and advocated any claim relating to cession of a part of the Country whereas, in the instant case, the petitioner by uploading the posts on his Facebook, has supported the claim of cession of a particular part of the Country.”