Prohibitory order on fake social media posts not extended: Govt

Mumbai: The Maharashtra government on Friday informed the Bombay High Court that the prohibitory order against spreading of incorrect or false information on social media amid the COVID-19 pandemic has ended and no extension has been given to it.

Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni told a division bench of Justices A A Sayed and M S Karnik that the order dated May 23 passed by the deputy commissioner of police (Operations) under section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) had been in effect only till June 8.

“The same has not been extended after June 8 and presently there is no prohibitory order in place,” Kumbhakoni said.

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The court was hearing two public interest litigations challenging the legality of the prohibitory order.

As per the order, action can be taken against any person who spreads incorrect or fake information on social media.

The order had further stated that persons who are administrators of any social media group shall be held personally liable for dissemination of any false or incorrect messages circulated in the group.

After accepting the government’s submission, the bench disposed of the petitions, noting that as the prohibitory orders have ceased to exist, nothing survives in the plea.

According to the petitions filed by advocate Sheshanath Mishra and journalist and co-founder of the NGO Free Speech Collective Geeta Seshu, the order violates the rights of citizens guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India (right to freedom of speech and expression).

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The petition filed by Mishra claimed that the police order aims to muzzle the voice of common citizens and prevent them from criticising the government’s handling of the pandemic.

Seshu’s counsel Mihir Desai argued that the police have not followed due procedure prescribed under section 144 of CrPC.

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