VALIDITY OF CRIMINAL DEFAMATION LAWS IN INDIA

The criminal defamation laws have prevailed in the Indian criminal jurisprudence for several years including the British colonial period. Criminal defamation has been prescribed under sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code 1860 and is extensively framed sections, that makes them punishable for expressing such insinuations about an individual, whilst planning to hurt or posses a reasonable cause to harm the reputation of that individual.


OUTLINE OF CRIMINAL DEFAMATION LAWS IN INDIA An individual’s fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression, as safeguarded by the Indian Constitution under Article 19, is likely to confront an individual’s right to criticize or express dismay on a particular issue. There is indeed a difference between the two rights that have been re-iterated in several judgments whereby courts have duly considered the reasoning and result of interpreting Section 499 IPC.

Under Indian legislation, defamation lies under the civil as well as criminal jurisprudence. As per criminal law, though they were initially meant for situations whereby civil disturbance or a violation of harmony could have occurred from a defamatory allegation, it is most often employed to censor or punish critics or alleged victims. As per IPC, criminal defamation may take effect where any party publishes any comment to lower the complainant's credibility and when the printed comment is malicious

Following the increase in the use of SLAPP suits, decriminalization is perhaps even more significant. In an attempt to decriminalize the defamation laws under Indian criminal jurisprudence, Mr. Rahul Gandhi, BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal considered filing a petition against such defamation laws under the criminal jurisprudence, stating their infirmities with the right of freedom of speech and expression. The said petition was set aside by the bench observing that these laws do not have any drastic consequence over the right or freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. Thereby, the court stated that the said laws are constitutionally valid and are necessary to safeguard the reputation of the individuals against any false accusations. The freedom of speech and expression is not an absolute right and is aided with reasonable restrictions as prescribed under Article 19 of the constitution. In several further judgments, courts have elaborated the answer to whether these criminal defamation laws under sections 499 and 500 IPC, cross the limits of reasonable limitations prescribed under Article 19(2). At the end of November 2020, Kerala Government passed a comprehensively debatable ordinance regarding criminal defamation that gives punishment to individuals who create, express or publish any threatening, abusive or defamatory articles, statements via any kind of communications, for a jail term of 3years.

From the loopholes of the landmark 2016 judgment to the widely debated arrest and detention of News anchor Arnab Goswami for criminal defamation, the state has been juggling with the idea of reputation under Article 21 of the constitution within the context of the said provisions of criminal defamation. Lawmakers have been expressing their anguish against how cyber-crimes have been wearing the masks of journalism and the press.

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