Globally remove links of video defaming Ramdev, Delhi HC directs Facebook, Google, Twitter

The tech giants had earlier disabled access to the video only for Indian viewers

baba ramdev

On October 23, Wednesday, the Delhi High Court (HC) directed social media giants Facebook, Twitter, Google and its subsidiary YouTube to forthwith” remove, block or disable on a global basis links to a video containing defamatory allegations against yoga guru Ramdev, The Indian Express reported.

The social media platforms had earlier sought to remove the content locally, within India, by a technique known as ‘geo-blocking’, where content is blocked for viewing from a particular jurisdiction.

The court’s direction came on a suit filed by Ramdev against a video uploaded by an unknown person containing “defamatory, disparaging and threatening” statements against him and Patanjali Ayurved Ltd.

The Court said that the petitioner, Ramdev, is a living human being and thus entitled to be treated with dignity and has a right of social reputation as an ordinary citizen even if he’s a public figure.

What the Defamation Law in India Says
According to section 499 of IPC, whoever, by words either spoken or intended to be read, or by signs or by visible representations, makes or publishes any imputation concerning any person intending to harm, or knowing or having reason to believe that such imputation will harm, the reputation of such person, is said, except in the cases hereinafter expected, to defame that person.

Section 500, which is on punishment for defamation, reads: “Whoever defames another shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.”
In India, defamation is both civil and criminal offence.

What the Video Says
The video with alleged defamatory allegations against Ramdev contained excerpts from the book ‘Godman to Tycoon: The Untold Story of Baba Ramdev’.

In the book, the author PriyankaPathak-Narain had implicitly stated that Ramdev was involved or complicit in the disappearance of his Guru ShankerDevJi and that he had used his influence to scuttle the investigation regarding the same.

It also insinuated that Ramdev had something to do with the murder of Swami Yogananda on account of a falling out between them.

The Judgment
In the judgment given by Justice Pratibha M. Singh, she noted  that viewing the video or reading its transcript give an impression that Ramdev “has been involved in various murders, financial irregularities, misuse of animal parts, etc”.

“Thus, the content of the video to the extent it contains paraphrasing of content which was directed to be removed from the book is held to be defamatory. A perusal of the video transcript and the offending portion of the book show the clear similarity and prima facie, establish that the video is derived from the book and hence is defamatory.”

“In any event, this issue is moot inasmuch as the video begins by stating that it is based on the book. Thus, the defamatory nature of the video cannot be disputed,” the court said.

The Court had on September 29, 2018, restrained the publisher Juggernaut Books from publishing it till the offending portions were deleted as it were these portions that were being communicated to the public through the video that was uploaded on the social media platforms.

Why the Global Restrictions
The court issued these directions to the concerned social media platforms after they unanimously agreed to disable the links for India, but opposed blocking of URLs on a global basis.

Stating that merely geo-blocking would not be sufficient, the court observed, “When disabling is done by the platforms on their own, in terms of their policies, the same is global. So, there is no reason as to why court orders ought to not be global. All offending material which has therefore, been uploaded from within India on to the defendant’s computer resource or computer network would have to disabled and blocked on a global basis.”

This, according to the court, would prevent all access to the video by other means.

Meanwhile the defendants raised the issues of the judgment interfering with the right to freedom of speech, especially that it cannot be enforced beyond Indian borders. Disseminating views on the internet is a fundamental ingredient of freedom of speech and expression. Has this freedom ruffled the feathers of a yogi?

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