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Sharjeel Imam case: Why Court upheld “dissent” as an “extension of the fundamental right to freedom of speech”?

Sharjeel Imam case: A Sessions court of Delhi, on Saturday, while setting student Sharjeel Imaam free from charges of rioting and conspiracy against the state upheld that the “dissent was an extension of free speech” and stated that the prosecution was unable to apprehend the “actual perpetrators” and the booked individuals were mere “scapegoats”. Students Sharjeel Imam, Safoora Zargar, Asif Iqbal Tanha, and eight others were booked after rioting in 2019.  

The speeches given by the Sharjeel Imaam in various universities and educational institutions in 2019, were the basis of filing the case by the prosecution. The Delhi Police had claimed that the accused wanted to “cut off” some parts of India. 

The additional sessions judge Arul Varma of the Saket district court, while passing the judgment stated, “Dissent was an extension of the fundamental right to freedom of speech”. 

What is Dissent?

Dissent is termed as a state of non-agreement with the commonly prevalent opinion and thought of the masses. It is the opinion that is not similar to the common belief of the collective society and it can be restricted to a particular individual or group. 

According to the Indian Constitution, citizens are allowed to carry their individual thoughts and beliefs and no one is liable to be affiliated with a particular idea. There is no restriction on thoughts and the Article 19 of the Indian Constitution describes free speech as a fundamental right. Citizens are also free to express their discontent with any actions or policies of the Government. 

What is the Sharjeel Imam case?

On February 4, Saturday, a court in Delhi evicted Sharjeel Imam, Safoora Zargar, Asif Iqbal Tanha, and eight others in a 2019 case, in which they were charged with conspiracy and rioting. In December 2019, violence broke out near the Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi and the Delhi Police booked these students under the charges of conspiracy against the state and rioting. 

Understanding the Freedom of Expression

The judgement is important as it upholds the idea of dissent which was laid down in the Constitution of India as part of the fundamental rights of “free speech and expression” with “reasonable restrictions”. 

The freedom of expression has been duly defined and laid down in the Indian Constitution, wherein, every citizen of the country has the right to share, express and speak out, his/her views and thoughts. The right to freedom of expression is often associated with the freedom of press as they both function together in many instances. However, there are certain restrictions to the freedom of the press, that are placed to safeguard the interest of the citizens and to prevent the circulation of sensitive/derogatory information. 

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