SC to hear on Nov 22 plea seeking direction to Centre to take steps to deal with hate speech

The Supreme Court Friday said it would hear on November 22 a plea which has sought a direction to the Centre to examine various international laws and take appropriate “effective and stringent” steps to control hate speech and rumour- mongering in the country.

A bench of Justices A M Khanwilkar and C T Ravikumar asked senior advocate Vikas Singh, who was appearing for the petitioner, to serve the copy of the plea to the ministries of home affairs, law and justice and the Law Commission — which have been arrayed as respondents in the petition.

The apex court was hearing the petition, filed by lawyer and BJP leader Ashwini Upadhyay in his personal capacity through advocate Ashwani Dubey, which has also sought a direction to the Centre to take legislative steps to implement recommendations of the Law Commission to deal with the menace of hate speech and rumour-mongering.

The top court said the matter would be heard on November 22, when a separate plea, which also came up for hearing during the day, related to the issue would also be taken up.

“The petitioner is filing this writ petition as a PIL… seeking writ/order/direction to the Centre to examine the international laws relating to ‘hate speech’ and ‘rumour mongering’ and take apposite effective stringent steps to control ‘hate speech’ and ‘rumour-mongering’ in order to secure rule of law, freedom of speech and expression and Right to Life, Liberty and Dignity of citizens,” Upadhyay has said in his plea.

The petition further sought a direction that the courts, while awarding punishment for the offences against “public tranquillity, offences relating to elections etc”, shall pronounce sentences running consecutively and not concurrently.

It urged that the government be asked to take appropriate steps to implement recommendations of Law Commission Report-267 on hate speech.

“The injury to the citizens is extremely large because ‘hate speech and rumour-mongering’ has the potential of provoking individuals or society to commit acts of terrorism, genocides, ethnic cleansing etc. Hate speech is considered outside the realm of protective discourse, it said.

“Indisputably, offensive speech and rumour- mongering have devastating effects on people’s lives and risks their health and safety. Hate speech is harmful and divisive for communities and hampers social progress. If left unchecked, hate speech can severely affect not only the rule of law but also the right to life, liberty and dignity of the citizens,” the plea said.

In 2012, around 50,000 citizens from north-eastern states moved from their residences across India and rushed to their native places after “circulation of false images of violent incidents that took place not in India but in Myanmar several years ago”, it said.

The plea, which referred to the existing penal provisions in the Indian Penal Code (IPC), said hate speech is an incitement to hatred primarily against a group of persons defined in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religious belief and it poses complex challenges to freedom of speech and expression.

“A difference of approach is discernible between the US and other democracies. In the US, it is given constitutional protection; whereas under international human rights covenants and in other western democracies, such as Canada, Germany, and UK, it is regulated and subject to sanctions. In view of this, the petitioner is of the opinion that new provisions in IPC are required to be incorporated to address the issues elaborately..,” it said.