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'Why Wasn't BJP Activist Released Immediately': SC Issues Contempt Notice to Mamata Govt Over Meme Row

Questioning why activist Priyanka Sharma was not released immediately after the SC order in May, the court asked the state to file a response in four weeks.


Updated:July 1, 2019, 5:28 PM IST

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday issued a contempt notice to the West Bengal government over the arrest of a BJP Yuva Morcha leader over a meme on Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

Questioning why activist Priyanka Sharma was not released immediately after its order in May, the court asked the state to file a response in four weeks.

The petition said that there was a delay in releasing Sharma despite the apex court's order granting bail to her.

A vacation bench of the top court had on May 14 granted her bail and directed her to tender a "written apology" at the time of her release from jail for sharing the meme on Banerjee, saying that freedom of speech of an individual ends when it infringes upon others' rights.

Sharma had allegedly shared on Facebook a photo in which Banerjee's face was photoshopped on to actor Priyanka Chopra's picture from the MET Gala event in New York. She was put behind bars on May 10 by the West Bengal Police under section 500 (defamation) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and under the provisions of the Information Technology Act on a complaint by a local Trinamool Congress leader.

Section 500 of the IPC entails punishment for defamation with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.

The contempt plea filed by Rajib Sharma, brother of the BJP activist, came up for hearing on Monday before a bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi. The bench, also comprising Justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose, issued notice to the state government and others on the plea and posted the matter for hearing after four weeks.

Rajib Sharma approached the court alleging there was a delay of over 24 hours in releasing his sister from jail despite the court's May 14 order. He has alleged that during the hearing in the apex court on May 14, the state government had suppressed the fact that a closure report was filed in the case before the concerned trial court on May 13 itself.

The court termed the arrest "prima facie arbitrary" and pulled up the West Bengal government for the delay in releasing Sharma. The apex court, which initially said Sharma's apology would be a bail condition, later clarified that it wopuld not be a condition for bail, but she should apologise for sharing the post at the time of her release.

The BJP activist had refused to apologise and instead alleged that she was harassed and tortured inside jail. "I was tortured in the jail. Even the jailer pushed me. I told them I am not a criminal that you are pushing me into the jail room like this," she said. "They behaved very rudely. The condition inside was very bad."

Her family had then alleged that the jail authorities violated the Supreme Court order by not releasing her immediately.

The incident had sparked outrage on social media, with #ISupportPriyankaSharma trending on Twitter.

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