Should governments use defamation to stifle criticism: SC will decide in Vijaykanth case

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New Delhi, July 16: Does having a different opinion or being critical in a democracy give governments the right to slap a defamation case? This is an aspect that will be examined by the Supreme Court of India.

A Bench comprising Justice Dipak Misra and C Nagappan yesterday issued notices to Tamil Nadu government among others on a petition challenging the prosecution in a defamation case.

Should governments use defamation to stifle criticism: SC will decide in Vijaykanth case.
A case had been filed by DMDK leader Vijaykanth challenging the criminal defamation proceedings initiated against him for criticising Tamil Nadu chief minister, J Jayalalithaa.

During the hearing the court observed that a public prosecutor needs to apply his mind. The office of the prosecutor is not a post office, the Bench had orally observed.

Also read: Vijaykanth defamation case- The PP is not a post office, SC's harsh words for TN government

Stifling criticism:

Sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code deal with criminal defamation. The constitutional validity of criminal defamation have been upheld by the Supreme Court. However the problem today is that defamation cases have been used as a tool to silence a critic.

It has been used against the media in the form of injunction orders and even against opposition leaders who have criticised the government. The Supreme Court would now go into the larger aspects concerning cases of defamation. First and foremost can it be used as a tool to stifle constructive criticism. Will criticising the policy of the government amount to defamation?

The counsel for Vijaykanth had argued in court and submitted that aspirations and sometimes desperation of the people are expressed through such criticism. The citizen's right to criticise cannot be atrophied by constant launching of criminal prosecution for defamation on each and every issue to silence the critics he had also stated. If criticism in a vibrant democracy is crippled then democracy would lose its cherished values, the counsel had further stated.

What do Sections 499 and 500 state?

Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code states: Whoever, by words either spoken or intended to be read, or by signs or by visible representations, makes or publishes any imputation concerning any person intending to harm, or knowing or having reason to believe that such imputation will harm, the reputation of such person, is said, except in the cases hereinafter expected, to defame that person.

Section 500,Punishment for defamation states: Whoever defames another shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.

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