BJP activist Priyanka Sharma, who was arrested last week for sharing a morphed photo of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Facebook, must apologise immediately after her release, the Supreme Court said on Tuesday. The 26-year-old was given a conditional bail after she approached the top court on Monday.
"Is there any difficulty in apologising? We are asking her to apologise for herself. Freedom of speech ends where it affects others' rights," the Supreme Court said. The court also issued notice to West Bengal Police over the way the the party activist was taken into custody.
Ms Sharma's lawyer argued that "if one is asked to apologise for memes, will citizens come and apologise for a caricature". Lawyer Neeraj Kishan Kaul said Priyanka Sharma did not create the morphed picture and she is being made to apologise only because of her association with the BJP. He said the order will have a "chilling effect on freedom of expression". The court is being passed on the specific circumstances of the case.
Priyanka Sharma was arrested last Friday after she shared a photo in which Mamata Banerjee's face has been photo-shopped on the form of actor Priyanka Chopra. In the original picture, the actor was photographed at the MET Gala in New York.
Ms Sharma was picked up by the police from her home and was sent to two weeks' judicial custody. The charges cited on the complaint by a Trinamool Congress leader include "defamation and offensive messages".
The Supreme Court bench, comprising comprising justices Indira Banerjee and Sanjiv Khanna, observed that since Priyanka Sharma is a member of a political party, the insinuation of posting such a picture will be different from those shared by common people.
BJP leader and Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, who had met the BJP activist's family on Sunday, welcomed the top court's decision. "Bengal police should have lodged the FIR against the person who created the meme and who have subsequently shared it. But why are you singling out a young lady? That means vendetta politics is at its peak in Bengal," he told NDTV.
The BJP youth wing activist's mother had claimed her daughter's arrest was politically motivated. The arrest had provoked anger and strong protests, not just by the BJP but also by other social media users.
"Humour, wit, sarcasm survive in a free society. They have no place in autocracies. Dictators laugh at people. They don't like people laughing at them. Bengal, today is a case in point," Union Minister Arun Jaitley tweeted on Tuesday.
In 2012, Ambikesh Mahapatra, a chemistry professor at Jadavpur University, was arrested for circulating an email with a caricature of Mamata Banerjee.