Freedom of speech ‘most abused’: India’s Supreme Court


India’s Supreme Court on Thursday pulled up the Narendra Modi government for filing an affidavit short on details in a plea seeking strong action against media houses for demonizing the Muslim community in connection with the Tablighi Jamaat event.

The top court highlighted the abuse of freedom of speech during the hearing.

A bench comprising Chief Justice SA Bobde, Justice AS Bopanna and Justice V Ramasubramanian told solicitor general Tushar Mehta: “You cannot treat the court the way you are treating it in this case.”

The bench pointed out that the government’s affidavit has been filed by a junior officer, and it is also extremely evasive and does not provide details on the aspect of bad reporting during the Tablighi Jamaat event.

The bench asked: “How can you say there was no incident [of bad reporting]?”

Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, appearing for the petitioners, contended before the bench that the government’s response makes it look like the petitioner was citing bad reporting as an attempt to muzzle the freedom of speech.

The Chief Justice replied that the government was entitled to make an argument, but “this freedom of speech may be the most abused freedom in recent times.”

The Chief Justice insisted the secretary of the department concerned must file an affidavit pointing out the observation in connection with reporting on the incident.

The bench also asked for information on laws which have exercised similar powers in the past, and had a brief discussion on the implication of the Cable Television Networks Act.

Mehta submitted that a fresh affidavit would be filed at the next hearing.

The bench said it wants to know if the government has any powers to ban or question the TV broadcast and insisted that the government should file an affidavit detailing steps it had taken to stop broadcasts in TV channels which targeted a single community.

The observations from the top court came during the hearing of a plea led Jamait Ulama-i-Hind seeking action against media reports indulging in communalizing the Tablighi Jamaat meeting held in Delhi in March.

The pleas have been filed through advocate Ejaz Maqbool and Adeel Ahmed.