The Delhi High Court on Monday upheld summons issued to Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal as an accused in a criminal defamation case for retweeting an allegedly defamatory video circulated by YouTuber Dhruv Rathee in May 2018.
Retweeting a social media post carrying defamatory content will amount to defamation under Section 499 of the IPC, Justice Swarana Kanta Sharma said while refusing to quash the trial court’s 2019 order summoning Mr Kejriwal.
The court also said that some sense of responsibility must be attached while retweeting content on social media about which a person does not have knowledge.
The AAP leader had challenged two orders of the trial court on the refusal to quash the summons. The high court had earlier stayed trial court proceedings in the case.
A magistrate’s court had summoned Mr Kejriwal to appear before it in August 2019 after a criminal complaint by the founder of social media page, “I Support Narendra Modi”, alleged the AAP leader had retweeted the defamatory video.
Retweeting, the high court said on Monday, must attract penal, civil as well as tort action. And when retweeting is done by political persons, including the chief minister, with bigger social media presence, the retweets become public endorsement which can be believed by the public, it said.
The high court said the concept of a publication, which was earlier limited to only printed material, must be examined in the context of virtual platforms and that the legal system must remain in tune with social media.
It said online interaction on social media and sharing any post with others by retweeting it attracts the liability for the offence of defamation.
The court said if the AAP leader wishes to justify his act of retweeting the video, it can be done at the stage of trial.
The chief minister had earlier challenged the magistrate’s order before a sessions court, which dismissed his plea.
He then challenged the sessions court’s order in the high court, saying the trial court failed to appreciate that his tweet was not intended or likely to harm complainant Vikas Sankrityayan.
The plea said the trial court erred in not providing any reasons for issuing the summons and the orders were ‘ex-facie’ devoid of judicial application of mind.
Sankrityayan claimed the YouTube video with the title “BJP IT Cell Part II” was circulated by Rathee, who lives in Germany, “wherein a number of false and defamatory allegations were made”.
Regarding Mr Kejriwal, he said the chief minister retweeted without checking its authenticity.
“The complainant alleges that the allegations made against him in this video are false, malicious and defamatory and it has lowered the reputation of the complainant in the eyes of right thinking members of the society. So far, no proof has been tendered on the allegations,” Sankrityayan’s complaint said.
He said Mr Kejriwal is followed by crores of people “due to which the video has reached a large number of people not only in India but also internationally”.