Senior Supreme Court advocate Upamanyu Hazarika has slammed the arrest of Gauhati University student Dipjyoti Gogoi on charges of sharing a news report in social media on flood-related fund-raising appeal made by chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal.
The screen grab of an image related to the news report appeared in Northeast Now on July 15, 2019 was shared by Dipjyoti Gogoi on Facebook recently, following which he was arrested by crime branch.
“The Assam police apprehended Dipjyoti Gogoi for creating fake information. A case has been registered under the Crime Branch police station,” a statement from the State government said on July 21.
It added that he had been booked under relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code and Information Technology Act.
Taking a dig at the state government, advocate Hazarika has offered to help all those who are victims of such actions which infringe the freedom of speech and liberty of any person.
Referring to the arrest of Dipjyoti Gogoi, a student of mass communication department at Gauhati University, Hazarika stated that he and his colleagues were ready and willing to offer their services and provide legal assistance.
“If a person is arrested for forwarding a news report in social media then this spells extreme danger for personal liberty and freedom of speech and expression,” Hazarika said.
The senior lawyer said that the state information and public relation department which had dubbed the news post forwarded by Dipjyoti as “fake news” has been proved to be false by the editor in chief of the portal in an open letter to the Government.
It may be mentioned that Northeast Now had lodged a complaint on July 21 with Assam chief secretary Kumar Sanjay Krishna against wrong detection of a “Fake News” by the DIPR, Assam.
The complaint was lodged after the news report, published by Northeast Now (Assamese) on July 15, 2019, was declared ‘Fake’ by the DIPR, Assam on July 19, 2020.
The news was prepared based on a statement released by DIPR-Assam on July 14, 2019, and on an appeal from the Assam Government on its official Twitter handle at 12.02 pm of July 14, 2019 seeking donation.
“When the state is facing such a grave crisis as floods and Covid-19, for Chief Minister Sonowal, is the greatest danger to the State from a social media by a University student?” advocate Hazarika asked.
He further said that this was a fundamental breach of fundamental rights and the law laid down by the Supreme Court on two counts.
Firstly, the Supreme Court in the case Shreya Singhal in 2015 had declared her arrest and registration of an offence for a social media post to be in breach of her fundamental rights and section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 was set aside.
Secondly, it is settled law in multiple decisions and judgements of the Supreme Court that criticism of a leader may not amount even to a civil defamation, leave alone criminal charges.
“If the Chief Minister lacks such basic courage to face criticism and misuses the law in so unconstitutional a manner, then senior police officials and particularly the Advocate General of the State should have cautioned and advised him against such grossly arbitrary steps,” he said.
Hazarika said to victimize those who are particularly vulnerable – especially students and those who belong to weaker communities like Rajesh Gorh of North Lakhimpur who was arrested in similar circumstances for forwarding a social media post three years ago is a clear strategy to quell all dissent by making an example out of such cases.
“This sounds the death knell for democracy,” he added.