Demonetisation: Is ban on unflattering social media posts legally tenable?

In a move that came across as a clampdown on free speech and drew criticism from activists, District Magistrate of Indore P Narahari recently ordered a ban on “objectionable and inflammatory posts” on the Narendra Modi government’s demotenisation move on social media and mobile messenger applications.

The collector issued the ban under Section 144 of CrPC and said that misleading and objectionable posts were apparently being circulating on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook and through messenger applications like WhatsApp. He labelled these messages a threat to the law and order situation.

"Because of the events in the past few days, it is clear that Facebook posts and comment/likes on them, messages on WhatsApp, which are unfavourable, have hurt the sentiment of the general public. Forwarding such messages on Twitter, etc, has a proximate and direct nexus with the disruption of the public order. Such conduct in future can disturb public order and give rise to a reaction that can incite an individual to commit a crime,” The Economic Times quoted Narahari as saying in his order dated November 14. 

According to Section 144 of CrPC, a District Magistrate has the power to direct any person to abstain from an act to prevent, obstruction, annoyance or injury to any person lawfully employed, or danger to human life, health or safety, or a disturbance of the public tranquility, or a riot, of an affray.

Though it is unusual for the Section to be applied on social media posts, the District Magistrate is well within his right to invoke it for imposing restrictions on social media posts concerning demonetisation, say legal experts. The act can be applied on the social media and people can be asked not to post anything inciting against demonetisation.

Under the law, any violation of Section 144 of CrPC can attract a rigorous imprisonment for three years and/or fine. 

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