“Defamation is a serious offence in India; it’s both a civil wrong as well as a criminal offence, and the aggrieved party can initiate either a civil suit or file a criminal complaint. Or both. Filing a defamation case is a particularly useful SLAPP strategy, a neologism that stands for ‘Strategic Legal Action against Public Participation’ and signifies all manner of legal action initiated to harass those working on public interest issues,” writes Sajan Venniyoor in an article on http://www.thehoot.org/web/home/index.php a media related website.
Green activists from Goa are upset over the Rs.500 crore defamation suit filed against Sebestian Rodrigues by Fomento Industries against anti-mining activist Seby Rodrigues, at the Kolkata High Court. They feel is yet another ploy to stifle the freedom of speech of the tribal people of the state. Yet another tactic to suppress the agitating people into silence.
Fomento claimed it was being defamed by Seby. Among the other prayers to the Court, Fomento made to the Calcutta High Court was a claim of Rs. 500 crores from Seby for the damages caused by the blog http://mandgoa.blogspot.com/ that he manages.
Questions are being raised as why the petition has been field in Kolkata in the eastern state of West Bangal, when the same could have been field in Goa state at the Bombay High Court. An editorial in Gomantak Times on the issue says:
“The Rs 500 crore defamation suit alters the equation a bit. While we agree that every aggrieved party has a right to approach the courts for redressal, in the case of Seby Rodrigues we question why the case was filed in Kolkata and not Goa? Both Seby and Fomento are based in Goa, the mine in question is in Goa, why go to a far off place like Kolkata? One does not have to be Arun Shourie to conclude that the purpose is to transport Seby to a place where he has virtually no support and no access to friendly lawyers and to make it financially difficult for him to run the case. Hence the court case has two objectives — defamation and harassment. This approach was adopted to silence Rajan Narayan when he was editor of ‘O Herald’ and leaders of the anti-Meta Strips agitation.”
It further adds, “It might be important to recall that an earlier attempt to neutralize Seby by labeling him as a Naxalite failed when the proof failed to match up to the charge. Then, Seby emerged victorious and the sobriquet ‘Naxalite Seby’ was stuck on him by those who wished to easily identify him in a state which probably has a thousand Sebys. Nobody is questioning the technicality of whether the case can be filed in Kokatta or not. But, if justice is the issue then the case should be transferred to Goa where it can be heard. In other words, the Vice-President (Communications) who has filed the case should play with a straight bat.”
It has been filed in far away Kolkata, so that poor Seby will have to travel back and forth endlessly and at major expense.
Why Kolkata? Because it is the only High Court where you don’t have to deposit a percentage of the amount you are suing for.
To think that the blogspot run by Seby Rodrigues has caused a loss of Rs 500 crore to Fomentos, which has a mining lease in Colamb village is hilarious. However, the fact that the company has gone to lengths to file a defamation suit against Seby for reports published on his blog is proof that this Siolim-based green is a thorn in the flesh of the mining company.
The petition filed by the company lists blog entries which are defamatory to it. We do not intend to discuss whether these entries are indeed defamatory or not. A court of law is the right platform to test this charge, and if found guilty, Seby will have to face the penalty decided by the court. There aren’t any other issues involved because the blog is not anonymous. In that respect Seby plays with a straight bat.
Researcher and Lawyer Jason Keith Fernandes writing in his column in Gomantak Times says, bring yet another interesting story related to defamation.
“The case of one Hans Dembowski, who subsequent to his research and the award of a PhD degree published a book, via the Oxford University Press titled Taking the State to Court – Public Interest Litigation and the Public Sphere in Metropolitan India. This book was concerned with the issue of governance in metropolitan India, and sought to elaborate the manner in which the Indian courts are playing a vital role in making public institutions more accountable.”
“Unfortunately for him however, two lawyers of Calcutta High Court, one of them being a government pleader, initiated a contempt petition before the Calcutta High court stating that the book contains “scurrilous derogatory and scandalous remarks against this Hon’ble Court” and has “scandalized and/or tended to lower the Authority of this court”.
Acting on this petition, the Calcutta High Court in an interim order ensured that the national and international circulation of the book was stopped. Dembowski hangs in limbo ever since.”
Did Fomento in fact initiate a dialogue with Seby prior to filing this suit in the High Court of Calcutta? Was this dialogue attested to by some form of written communication?
Ideally, Fomento ought to have; in such a case displaying its commitment to an open society, and arming itself against the now widely prevalent accusations that it is seeking to harass an activist who is raising valid questions about the nature of mining in Goa.
For all the challenges that Goa has been dealing with, every challenge is an opportunity for dialogue. Unfortunately it seems that at almost every turn, this opportunity is being rejected in favour of the legal; a route that is really in confrontation with the social.
And Bloggers across the globe can now be protected from charges including defamation and invasion of privacy through a bloggers insurance initiative launched by Media Bloggers Association (MBA), says International Center for Journalists https://www.ijnet.org/,
The program provides bloggers access to the same sort of legal and financial resources that have been available to traditional media organizations.
Part of the new program is an online course being offered on media law. Bloggers interested in purchasing the insurance must register to be part of MBA which requires a US$25 annual fee.
To learn more contact email@example.com or click here.
In UK, court orders obliging websites to
disclose the identity of users posting anonymous defamatory remarks began in 2001.
Dominic Bray, of K&L Gates, says: “There seem to be quite a lot of websites that are using their anonymity to make comments about people and think that there shouldn’t be any liability for it. But the internet is no different to any other place of publication, and if somebody is making defamatory comments about people then they should be held responsible for it. What these cases do is just confirm that’s the law – the law applies to the internet as much as it does to anything else.”
Dan Tench, of Olswang, says: “This case illustrates an increasingly important legal issue: proving who is responsible for the publication of anonymous material on the internet. This is likely to be a significant issue in defamation cases in the future.”