NEW DELHI: Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and five other AAP leaders were today summoned as accused in a criminal defamation complaint filed by Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley by a court here which directed them to appear before it on April 7 while noting that allegations were "derogatory" and amounted to "slander and libel".
Besides Kejriwal, the court also summoned Ashutosh, Sanjay Singh, Kumar Vishwas, Raghav Chadha and Deepak Bajpai, observing that the allegations levelled by them against Jaitley were "not only insulting but jeeringly taunting and provocative".
"The allegations are not only insulting but jeeringly taunting and provocative. I have no hesitation to hold that the allegations levelled by the respondents (Kejriwal and five others) are derogatory in nature and amount to slander and libel," Chief Metropolitan Magistrate (CMM) Sumit Dass said.
The court summoned these six accused for alleged offences under section 500 (defamation) of the IPC read with section 34 (common intention) the IPC and directed them to appear before it on April 7.
The order came on Jaitley's criminal defamation complaint in which he had said that Kejriwal and these five AAP leaders had allegedly defamed him in the Delhi District Cricket Association (DDCA) controversy.
In its 30-page order, the court observed that the freedom of speech and expression was not an absolute right, "but one that is hedged with reasonable restrictions, with the law of defamation being the primary one."
"The language of public discourse ought to be within the confines of decency, if it transgresses those limits and becomes insulting, offensive and laced with innuendos, same may amount to defamation and become actionable at the end of the person aggrieved," it said.
Referring to the statements and Facebook and Twitter posts of the accused, the court said, "The statements have exposed the complainant (Jaitley) to ridicule, hatred and contempt amongst the right-thinking members of the society and lowered his reputation."
"The statements in the light of the pre-summoning evidence led (by Jaitley) manifest that the underlying common intent was to paint the complainant as a person of dubious integrity, involved in embezzlement of funds through unscrupulous deals," the court noted in its order. In its order, the court said, "Reputation of a man is his greatest asset. It takes years to build one's reputation. No one knows or realises this fact much better than people who hold public office or aspire for the same."
It noted that "summing up the statements - to call a person as corrupt/dishonest, one who indulges in financial bungling and having embezzled/siphoned off money to the tune of Rs 57 crores, calling him/equating him/drawing parallels with person who is involved in criminal case, casting aspersions about his integrity, are not legitimate acts of criticism but downright and per se defamatory in nature."
Referring to the pre-summoning evidence led on record, the court observed that it was beyond the "pale of dispute" that the accused had made imputations against Jaitley and published the same through electronic and social media.
"Thus, in so far as the publication or dissemination of the defamatory statement is concerned, I need not dilate any further on this point. Furthermore, it has come on record that the allegations levelled through the medium of Facebook posts attracted a huge viewership and were shared/followed by a significant number of persons and invariably amounts to publication of the same," it said.
The court noted that Jaitley, through the testimony of witnesses, has proved on record that while he was President of DDCA, "the accounts were duly audited/approved by AGM" and were submitted with the taxation authorities.
It observed that the fact that Jaitley has no association with a firm M/s 21st Century Media Pvt Ltd also "assists him on this aspects - points out about the falsity of allegations levelled by the respondents. This strengthens the probative worth of the complainant's version."
Detailing the alleged common intention of the six accused, the court said specific statements were made by them and even looked at in isolation, they were per se defamatory.
"However, reading them as a whole manifests a well orchestrated campaign and respondents appeared to have acted in unison. The identity in the content, proximity in terms of timing of their statements suggests a commonality of intent, shared purpose and active participation," it said.
It said the "defamatory allegations as levelled on Facebook posts and print media were intended to be read/shared by the maximum number of persons, the allegations resonating through the social media by tweets and re-tweets, all points out to the synchronized pattern, in quick succession of time and which also probabilise the existence of common intention." Referring to Jaitley's statement recorded before it, the court said he had relied upon ample material "delineating the individual statements made by accused persons, their tweets, re-tweets and allegations made in the press conference, thus spelling out their specific role in the transaction."
"Considering the aforesaid facts and circumstances, taking a prima facie view, in my opinion there are sufficient grounds to summon accused persons namely Arvind Kejriwal, Ashutosh, Sanjay Singh, Kumar Vishwas, Raghav Chadha, Deepak Bajpai for the offence under section 500 (defamation) IPC read with section 34 (common intention) IPC," it said.
The court said even though Ashutosh and Kumar Vishwas are residents of Noida and Ghaziabad and beyond its territorial jurisdiction but further inquiry under section 202 of CrPC, relating to postponement of process, was not warranted in this matter as evidence were primarily of a documentary nature.
"No fruitful purpose would be served by protracting the enquiry any further and the evidence already recorded shall suffice also for purposes of section 202 of CrPC. Therefore, there is no reason to postpone the issue of process and embark on a further inquiry," it said.
In his complaint, Jaitley had alleged that Kejriwal and others had made defamatory statements that he and his family had made pecuniary gains by associating with M/s 21st Century Media Pvt Ltd, a sports management firm.
The court had earlier recorded statements of Jaitley and four other complainant witnesses in the case.
On January 5, Jaitley had appeared in the court and said that Kejriwal and five AAP leaders had made "false and defamatory" statements. He had rejected the charge that he had siphoned off money from DDCA for his own benefit.
During recording of his statement, Jaitley had said that their statements against him and his family members lowered his dignity in the eyes of the public at large.
Jaitley had said Kejriwal's statement that he received money when the Feroz Shah Kotla stadium was constructed during his tenure as the DDCA Chief, was false as Board of Directors had constituted a committee to supervise the work and he was not a member of this supervisory committee.
Jaitley was the DDCA President from December 1999 to December 2013.
Jaitley had on December 21, 2015 filed the criminal defamation case against them and sought their prosecution for offences that entail a punishment of upto two years in jail.