No criminality if something said with a smile: Delhi HC on hate speech case

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The Delhi High Court bench said on Friday, “If you’re saying something with a smile, then there is no criminality, if you’re saying something offensive, then definitely.”

The bench was hearing a plea to initiate criminal proceedings against Union Minister Anurag Thakur for “hate speech”. The bench reserved its verdict on the plea.

The single-judge bench was presided by Justice Chandra Dhari Singh who continued saying that “check and balance” is needed before filing FIRs over political speeches. The plea was submitted by CPI leader Brinda Karat challenging the trial court order dismissing the criminal complaint against Anurag Thakur and Parvesh Verma for speeches made just prior to the 2020 northeast Delhi riots.

The minister in his speech used the slogan “Desh ke gaddaro ko, goli maaro saalon ko” in a call to his supporters to act against the protestors. The Election Commission had also issued a show cause notice to Thakur on January 29, 2020, for the speech. Karat in her complaint before the trial court, sought to register an FIR for hate speech.

Justice Singh commented that there is a difference between election speech and speeches given other times, “Because if any speech is given during election time, then it’s a different time. If you’re giving a speech in ordinary times, then you’re instigating something.”

“In the election speech, so many things are said by politicians to each other and that is also a wrong thing. But I have to see the criminality of the act If you are saying something, suppose you’ve said something only for creating mahaul and all these things, I think mens rea because different political parties say different things,”said the bench.

The counsels for Karat, advocates Adit Pujari and Tara Narula in their arguments had said the speeches instigated violence during the anti-CAA protests that were being held in various parts of Delhi. They also argued that the use of the term “ye log” by the minister indicated that he was targeting the protesters and a particular community.

To this, the judge asked, “Where is the communal intent in the speech?” adding that there was “no material to show” that the protesters all belong to one community.

“If that agitation is supported by all other citizens of this country, then how can you say that such a statement is given by two gentlemen for the purpose of only one community?” asked the bench.

The bench has reserved its verdict on the appeal for now.

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