The Calcutta High Court has directed the West Bengal Police to immediately return a seized mobile phone and a sim card of a doctor who made some social media posts highlighting the alleged shortage of protective gear for fellow professionals treating coronavirus patients and suspects.
Indranil Khan, an oncologist, moved the court on Wednesday alleging harassment by police after an FIR was filed at Mahestala police station in South 24 Parganas district for some of his Facebook posts concerning the allegedly deficient protective gear supplied by the state government to doctors attending COVID-19 patients in its hospitals.
The doctor was charged under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for allegedly causing disharmony and feeling of hatred which disturbed public tranquility and was called by the police for a lengthy interrogation on March 29 over the social media posts and his mobile phone and sim card were seized, Khan''s lawyer Lokenath Chatterjee told the court of Justice IP Mukerji during video conference hearing of the petition.
In view of the nationwide lockdown, the Calcutta High Court is hearing very urgent matters only via video-conferencing.
Justice Mukerji, who went through the posts made by the doctor, noted in his order that to a tweet made by the writ petitioner, there was a reply by the Department of Health and Family Welfare thanking him for highlighting the matter.
Holding that freedom of speech and expression which is granted under Article 19 of the Constitution has to be scrupulously upheld by the state, the court observed that "if an expression of opinion brings the government into disrepute, it cannot defend this allegation by intimidation of the person expressing the opinion".
Justice Mukerji said the state can do so if a citizen tries to utilise this freedom by trying to circulate alleged facts maliciously with a view to causing damage to another person or to the public at large or the nation.
He directed that there shall be no further interrogation of the petitioner without the leave of a proper court.
Justice Mukerji ordered that the police "may start a criminal case against the petitioner without arresting him, if at all the evidence prima facie discloses an offence".
He held that the liberty of the petitioner can only be curtailed by orders of the court to be passed in a properly instituted proceeding.
Disposing of the petition, Justice Mukerji restrained the doctor from making any posting on social media concerning the above issue for the time being.