The Delhi High Court Tuesday directed activist Saket Gokhale to immediately delete alleged defamatory tweets against Lakshmi Murdeshwar Puri and restrained him from posting ”scandalous” tweets against her and her husband, Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri. In an interim order, Justice C Hari Shankar also said if Gokhale fails to comply with the directions within 24 hours of the order, Twitter shall take down the tweets.
The court asked Puri, a former Assistant Secretary-General at the United Nations, to also implead Twitter as a party to the proceedings. Gokhale, in his tweets On June 13 and 26 made reference to certain property purchased by Puri in Switzerland and also referred to her husband.
The court passed the order on a defamation suit filed by Lakshmi Puri seeking Rs 5 crore damages from Gokhale and a direction that he deletes the tweets. In her suit, filed through Karanjawala and Company, she alleged that in the tweets, Gokhale has made false and factually incorrect, per-se defamatory, slanderous and libelous statements/ imputations against her and her family.
The court, while pronouncing the order, said: The defendant (Gokhale) is directed to immediately delete from his Twitter account all tweets against the plaintiff (Puri) which the present plaint makes reference, as well as all connected tweets, which form part of the trail of tweets by the defendant against the plaintiff. The defendant is restrained, pending further orders of this court, from posting any defamatory, scandalous, or factually incorrect tweets on his Twitter account against the plaintiff or her husband.
The court also issued summons to Gokhale on the main suit and directed him to file his written statement within four weeks and listed the case before the Joint Registrar on September 10. It also said the observations made in the order are prima facie and made to decide the application for the interim relief.
The high court on July 8, had questioned Gokhale for putting out alleged defamatory tweets against Puri, without verifying the facts from her or approaching any government authority. Observing that right to reputation is recognised as a fundamental right, it had asked Gokhale, also a freelance journalist, as to how he could vilify people, particularly when the tweets put out by him were prima facie incorrect.
So according to your understanding of the law, any Tom, Dick and Harry can write anything against anyone on Internet irrespective of the fact that it destroys and damages the reputation of a person, the judge had remarked. The court had asked him as to what exercise he had carried out with public authorities before putting out the tweets on social media.
During the arguments, senior advocate Maninder Singh, representing Puri, had contended that the tweets were defamatory, malicious and based on false information and that Gokhale was nobody to put questions to her. He had said Puri does not hold any public office for these details to be put in public domain and if he was putting her name in public, he should have the minimum civility to ask her before he publishes this which was deliberately ignored.
Advocate Sarim Naved, representing Gokhale, had said as a citizen, he has the right to go into the assets of public functionaries. He had also said Puri’s husband is a Union minister and that assets of such persons along with spouse should be in public domain but in this case, the money received from their daughter is not in public domain.