24 Dec 2021 5:03 AM GMT
The Madras High Court(Madurai Bench) has quashed yet another FIR registered against YouTuber Maridhas over his YouTube Video criticizing the Tablighi Jamaat conference of March 2020 during the COVID first wave.A Single Judge Bench of Justice G.R. Swaminathan observed that none of the ingredients of alleged offences in the FIR had been made out by the prosecution.About the video uploaded...
The Madras High Court(Madurai Bench) has quashed yet another FIR registered against YouTuber Maridhas over his YouTube Video criticizing the Tablighi Jamaat conference of March 2020 during the COVID first wave.
A Single Judge Bench of Justice G.R. Swaminathan observed that none of the ingredients of alleged offences in the FIR had been made out by the prosecution.
About the video uploaded by Maridhas on his YouTube Channel, the Court noted that he was merely expressing his views as a public commentator about an event that was undoubtedly characterized as a 'super spreader'. While making the relevant remarks, the Court also added that the petitioner accused was entitled to protection under Article 19(1)(a). He relied solely on the news sources available in the public domain about the congregation.
"Criticism of an organization cannot be taken as a criticism of a community. Tablighi Jamaat cannot be equated with Islam. It is a religious organization professing particular goals. No one can deny that Tablighi Jamaat came under severe and harsh criticism for its reckless and irresponsible conduct during March 2020", Justice G.R. Swaminathan noted in the FIR Quashing order.
'Nowhere Targeted Islam, Disclaimers In Video Itself'
The court also went on to critically examine the conduct of Maridhas while expressing his views in the YouTube Video. According to the court, Maridhas 'nowhere targeted Islam or the religious beliefs of Muslims as a class.' Referring to the offence under Section 295A IPC [Deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs], the court pointed out the following:
"…In fact, the petitioner has given several disclaimers in his video. He repeatedly cautioned the viewers that his presentation should not be misconstrued as criticism of Muslims. There is no reference to religion even in the remotest sense of the term in the video in question. By no stretch of imagination could Section 295A of IPC have been invoked."
Placing reliance on Ramji Lal Modi vs. State of U.P, AIR 1957 SC 620, the court further made an inference that Section 295A cannot be invoked for any and every act of insult to or attempt to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of a class of citizens.
"Insults to religion offered unwittingly or carelessly or without any deliberate or malicious intention to outrage the religious feelings of that class do not come within the section", the court adds for clarity though it underscored that Maridhas' conduct couldn't be termed as 'insult to a religion'.
About Tablighi Jamaat, the court mentioned that there are established reports about its 'puritanical and revivalistic project' which 'prepares the ground for Islamic radicalisation'. The court also added that Jamaat has been proscribed as a terrorist organisation by the Saudi Arabian Government.
'No Reference To Religion', 'No Two Groups Involved'
About the de facto complainant's allegation that Maridhas has committed an offence under Section 153 A IPC [Promoting enmity between different groups on specific grounds] and Section 505 (2) IPC [Statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes], the Court opined that the statements in the video do not pertain to two groups or classes.
"…There is no reference to religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste or community. The Hon'ble Supreme Court had clearly held that unless one group is sought to be pitted against the other on the aforementioned grounds, the penal provisions are not at all attracted."
For reaching the above conclusion, the court referred to Manzar Sayeed Khan and Ors. v. State of Maharashtra and Ors (2007) 5 SCC 1. Supreme Court, in this judgment, laid down that the mens rea to promote feelings of enmity or hatred between different classes of people is a sine qua non to prove the offence under Section 153A.
"One cannot rely on strongly worded and isolated passages for proving the charge nor indeed can one take a sentence here and a sentence there and connect them by a meticulous process of inferential reasoning", the apex court had noted in the said judgment.
'Intention To Stop The Spread Of Pandemic, A Call For Unity In Fighting A Health Emergency '
The court also mentioned that the petitioner accused didn't even challenge the ideology of the congregation and he never spoke in a divisive manner.
Recalling that the state was actively trying to trace the conference attendees and the persons who came in contact with them, the court observed:
"The petitioner's intention was that the spread of the pandemic must be stopped. He wanted the persons who attended the conference to co-operate with the administration and the health workers."
The court has also mentioned that the petitioner cannot be blamed for voicing his apprehensions while asking everyone to stand together with the administration during a public health emergency.
On the statements made by the accused about Tablighi Jamaat in the video transcript, the court made the following remarks:
"He was directing his criticism only at a section of the attendees. One cannot lose sight of the fact that India is seen as a soft target by global terror networks. That a number of persons have been misled in the name of religion and turned terrorists is a reality. Terrorism can take any form. When pandemic struck, it was seen as another form of bio-warfare.Such reports were very much made even in the mainstream media."
Section 292A Not Applicable To 'Bona Fide' Opinions On Public Issues
About attributing Section 292A IPC [Printing, etc., of grossly indecent or scurrilous matter or matter intended for blackmail] to the accused, the Court disagreed and pointed out that the penal provision would generally apply to 'Yellow Journalism' and not 'bona fide expressions of opinions on public questions or issues of public importance'.
'Many Attendees Of Tablighi Jamaat Conference Tested Positive'
Before delving into the legal questions raised, the Court remarked that the conference held in Nizamuddin Markaz, New Delhi, turned out to be a concerning event for state governments and the general public during the lockdown. The Court further mentioned that the administration desperately tried tracing the conference attendees.
"I can take judicial notice of the fact that many such returnees did test positive and were quarantined", the court added.
About the prosecution's argument that Maridhas evaded law enforcement agencies after obtaining anticipatory bail in the case, the court noted:
"Due to the pandemic-induced lockdown, the petitioner did not surrender and execute sureties. This has been taken advantage of by the state police. The petitioner is under arrest. In these circumstances, since the liberty of the petitioner was involved, the quash petition was taken up for disposal."
In the end, Madurai Bench allowed the criminal original petition filed by Maridhas and quashed the FIR on the file of Melapalayam Police.
Melapalayam police registered a case against Maridhas upon receipt of a complaint by one of the members of Tamil Nadu Muslim Muslim Munnetra Kazhakam. The de facto complainant happened to watch the YouTube Video uploaded by Maridhas and accused him of insulting Islam 'with an intention to create ill-will and discord between Muslims and non-Muslims.'
According to the complainant, the accused deliberately spoke ill of the conference attendees as spreading Covid-19. During the hearing, it was contended by the de facto complainant that the petitioner 'tried to create a false alarm as if because of the attendees of the aforesaid conference, the pandemic would sweep the entire country.'
Case Title: Maridhas v. State & Anr.
Case No: CRL.O.P.(MD)NO. 20560 OF 2021 & CRL.MP(MD)No.11714 of 2021
Click Here To Read/ Download Order