In a recent development on October 18, 2023, the Supreme Court of India granted bail to Congress Leader Afzal Lakhani, who was facing accusations of posting ‘Anti-Indian’ and ‘Pro-Pakistani’ content on Facebook. These posts included derogatory remarks about Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his late mother, Hiraba. It’s noteworthy that the Gujarat High Court had previously denied him bail in June of this year, emphasizing that those residing in India must demonstrate loyalty to the nation.
Today, in a decision led by Justice AS Bopanna and Justice MM Sundresh of the Supreme Court, Afzal Lakhani was granted bail. However, the Court imposed a critical condition: Lakhani must abstain from making any future social media posts of a similar nature, whether directly or indirectly.
The Supreme Court justified this condition by considering the fact that the High Court had also addressed these aspects, and at a later stage, the petitioner had expressed regret. They deemed it appropriate to provide Lakhani an opportunity to effectively participate in the trial. Nevertheless, they underscored the need for him to refrain from posting such content on social media in the future. The Court stated, “Hence, we make it a condition for the grant of relief to the petitioner and direct that the petitioner be released on bail subject to adhering to all the conditions imposed by the trial court, including that he shall not put any posts of this nature on social media.”
Previously, the Gujarat High Court had denied Lakhani bail while emphasizing the importance of faithfulness to India among those residing within its borders. The High Court had observed that certain comments made by the applicant could potentially hurt the sentiments of a particular community and that certain posts were of an abusive nature. They further noted that some of the material could have a substantial impact on society.
The High Court also stressed that one can have personal preferences and opinions about public figures, such as the Prime Minister, but this should not lead to the use of derogatory and abusive language. The language used in the controversial posts was so insulting and derogatory that the High Court refrained from reproducing them in its order. On a comprehensive evaluation, the High Court found that Lakhani, as an Indian citizen, had disrupted the peace and harmony of society. The posts appeared to be driven by an agenda, and granting bail to such an individual might result in the repetition of similar offenses through the use of pseudonyms and fake identities.
The allegations against Lakhani included the creation of 18 Facebook pages, where he posted content targeting the Prime Minister and members of a specific community. Additionally, he was accused of posting pornographic and obscene material on social media.
In this legal battle, Afzal Lakhani was represented by Siddhant Sharma, AOR, while the Solicitor General of India, Tushar Mehta, appeared on behalf of the State of Gujarat.