The Madras High Court has quashed the criminal defamation cases filed by the Tamil Nadu government against a leading English Daily and a Tamil newspaper for publishing an interview of BJP leader Subramanian Swamy on late J Jayalalithaa, in 2014.
Justice M Dhandapani had recently quashed the government orders issued in 2014, for prosecuting the publisher of a Tamil daily and Resident Editor of an English newspaper for publishing the interview of Swamy, in which he had made a mention of his letter to the Prime Minister.
Allowing the petitions by the newspapers against the G.Os, the judge held that the state government’s action in initiating prosecution against the petitioners for carrying the interview of Swamy was a “direct invasion” into the right of freedom of speech and expression that cannot be curtailed by invocation of Section 499 IPC.
While it was the duty of the Court to safeguard the interests of those persons holding public office from being defamed for discharging their public functions, equally, the citizens should also be safeguarded from the governmental machinery against malicious prosecution, he added.
The judge also noted that the ingredients for filing a complaint by the public prosecutor in the present case as enumerated under section 199(2) Cr Pc. itself has not been fulfilled.
The defamation should be in respect of the conduct of the public servant in the discharge of his or her public functions, which is not the case on hand, he pointed out.
The statements carried by the petitioners in print, by no stretch of imagination, could be said to be defamatory ones made with a view to harm the reputation of the Chief Minister’s office in respect to her conduct in the discharge of her public functions, the court said.
“Therefore, the initiation of the prosecution for defamation u/s 199 (2) Cr.P.C. is not sustainable for the offence alleged to have been committed under section 499, 500 and 501 IPC,” it said.
The BJP leader had alleged that then chief minister Jayalalithaa saw his success as threatening her political position in the Assembly polls.
In his letter to Modi, Swamy had criticised late Jayalalithaa for appropriating his (Swamy) achievements, his hard work on issues pertaining to Mullaperiyar dam, installation of the Thevar statue in Parliament and the 2G spectrum scam.
Subsequently, the city public prosecutor had filed the defamation cases against the two newspapers for carrying the interview.