Merely posting edited photo on social media not an offence under Kerala Police Act: Kerala High Court

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Merely posting a manipulated photo on social media sites like Facebook (now known as Meta) will not amount to an offence under section 120(o) of the Kerala Police Act, the Kerala High Court recently observed. [Fr Geevarghese John @ Subin John v The State of Kerala & Anr.].

Justice PV Kunhikrishnan said that in order to attract the offence, the accused person has to cause nuisance to any other person through such posts.

“If this Court started to hold that all these Facebook posts amount to an offence under Section 120(o) of the Kerala Police Act, 2011, almost all posts made on Facebook is to be declared as an offence under Section 120(o) of the Kerala Police Act,” the Court added in its order.

However, the Court opined that the legislature should examine the issue since defamatory posts continue to do the rounds on social media.

“The defamatory Facebook posts continue to do the rounds on Facebook and other social media platforms. There is no proper punishment for such defamatory statements and posters on Facebook. The legislature must look into this aspect seriously, especially in the backdrop of this new era of technology and social media mania in existence in our society”, the Court said.

The Court was considering an appeal filed by a Jacobite church priest challenging the decision of the Magistrate Court granting permission to register a case against him under section 120 (o) of the Kerala Police Act.

By way of background, the defacto complainant who is a priest from the Orthodox church, sat on a hunger strike along with 35 priests from the Malankara Orthodox Church on August 8, 2017, holding a banner.

The allegation was that a photograph showing the hunger strike was edited by the appellant and the wording on the banner was changed. He then put up the same on Facebook (currently known as Meta) thereby, defaming the de facto complainant and the other Malankara Orthodox Church priests.

The Magistrate permitted registration of a case under section 120(o) of the Kerala Police Act, prompting the appellant to approach the High Court.

After going through the facts of the case as well as the provisions of the Kerala Police Act, the High Court found that the post in question, which was just a manipulated photo, would not attract the offence alleged.

Therefore, the High Court allowed the appeal and quashed all the proceedings pending before the Magistrate Court.

The petitioner was represented by advocates Abraham Samson and Lovely Samson.

The State Authorities and the de facto complainant were represented by K Rakesh.

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