IPC Provision on Criminal Defamation: Issues

IPC Provision on Criminal Defamation: Issues

Question: Union Government’s contention that provisions in IPC on criminal defamation does not impact free speech has created assent as well as dissent. Examine the issues underlying this IPC provision.

- Those proposing free speech as one of the fundamental freedoms will be disappointed by the stand of the GoI that IPC provision on criminal defamation does not hamper it

- Defamation is treated by many states as a civil wrong and not remedied through the use of coercive state powers

- UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, Human Rights Committee of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and numerous other global bodies have voiced support for the move to abolish criminal defamation

- Such a provision intimidates people and prevents them from revealing wrongdoing

- Grounds for supporting sections 499 and 500 of the IPC are specious

- A maximum jail term of two years for criminal defamation is a stiff penalty

- Indians are also unlikely to have enough liquidity to pay damaged for defamation

- Criminal defamation can also be used as a tool for harassing others and can easily be invoked without genuine grounds

- Criminal defamation also has a pernicious impact on society because state can use this as a means of coercing the media and political opponents into adopting self restraint and censorship which is unwarranted and unjustified

- Magistrates summon defendants without assessing whether the crime as been committed

- CPC also gives public servants undue benefits by permitting state prosecutors to stand for them when they have been defamed by media or political opponents

Facts and Stats

- In many countries, criminal defamation is a civil and criminal offence both

- Global bodies such as OSCE and UN have recognised and acknowledged the threat posed by criminal defamation laws

- OSCE Parliamentary Assembly has also called for absolution of laws which provide criminal penalties for defamation of public figures or state or state organs

- OAS, OSCE and UN Special Mandates have even gone further and said “Criminal defamation is not a justifiable restriction on freedom of expression; all criminal defamation laws should be abolished and replaced, where necessary, with appropriate civil defamation laws.”

- UNHCR has expressed reservation about the use of criminal defamation in wide ranging number of cases such as Cameroon and Norway
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