In a significant development on Monday, the Delhi High Court upheld the summons issued to Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal in a criminal defamation case related to the retweeting of an allegedly defamatory video circulated by YouTuber Dhruv Rathee in May 2018.
Justice Swarana Kanta Sharma, while dismissing the plea to quash the trial court’s 2019 order summoning Kejriwal, stated that retweeting a social media post containing defamatory content falls under the purview of defamation as per Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The court emphasized that a sense of responsibility must be exercised when sharing content on social media, especially when lacking complete knowledge about its authenticity.
The case originated from a criminal complaint by the founder of the social media page “I Support Narendra Modi,” alleging that Kejriwal had retweeted a defamatory video. The magistrate’s court had summoned the Chief Minister in August 2019, leading to the subsequent legal challenges.
The high court highlighted that retweeting, particularly by political figures with a significant social media presence, amounts to public endorsement and can be perceived as credible by the public. The court underscored the need for legal systems to adapt to the dynamics of social media and expanded the concept of publication to include virtual platforms.
The judgment emphasized that online interaction on social media, including retweeting, can attract liability for defamation. It urged Kejriwal to present justifications for his retweet during the trial.
Kejriwal had previously challenged the magistrate’s order before a sessions court, which was subsequently dismissed. The Chief Minister argued that his retweet was not intended to harm the complainant and criticized the lack of judicial reasoning behind the summons.
Complainant Vikas Sankrityayan alleged that the video, titled “BJP IT Cell Part II,” contained false and defamatory allegations. Sankrityayan claimed that Kejriwal’s retweet without verifying the video’s authenticity had adversely affected his reputation internationally, given the Chief Minister’s widespread social media following.