Delhi High Court has directed Organiser’ magazine to remove from its website an “offending” and prima facie “defamatory” article with allegations of sexual intimacy and exploitation of nuns and Hindu women associated with a church by the principal of a Christian minority school here.
Observing that the right to reputation has been recognised as a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution, the court said prima facie there was merit in the contention of the plaintiff, the school principal, that the article has been published in a “reckless manner” without any factual verification.
It said the right to freedom of speech and expression cannot be taken as an unfettered right to defame and tarnish the reputation of another person.
“I am of the prima facie view that the contents of the article are defamatory. There is prima facie merit in the contention of the plaintiff that the article has been published in a reckless manner without any factual verification and is tarnishing the image and reputation of the plaintiff, who is a respectable citizen of this country and associated with several educational institutions,” Justice Jyoti Singh said in an ex-parte interim order.
“It needs no gainsaying that it takes years to build a reputation and therefore, the right to reputation has been recognised as a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution,” Justice Singh said.
The court directed Bharat Prakashan (Delhi) Ltd and the magazine ‘Organiser Weekly – Voice of the Nation’ to remove the offending article from their website and issued summons to them in the main suit, asking them to file their written statements within 30 days.
The court, in its August 16 order, said Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution provides the right of freedom of speech and expression to all people, however, it cannot be overlooked that the same is subject to restrictions under Article 19(2) which includes defamation.
It has been repeatedly held by courts that the fundamental right to freedom of speech has to be counterbalanced with the right to reputation of an individual, the court said.
The high court’s interim order came on a plea by the principal of a reputed unaided recognised minority school.
The plea said to malign the image of the plaintiff, the defendants posted/published objectionable and obscene articles comprising allegations related to sexual intimacy and exploitation of nuns and Hindu women associated with the church on their website on June 9/June 10, titled Indian Catholic Church Sex Scandal: Priest exploiting nuns and Hindu women exposed’.
The article claimed that the plaintiff is engaged in sexual activities with staff members, chefs and students and he has also been accused of financial wrongdoings.
However, the plaintiff submitted that he has never been involved in any sexual activity as alleged or financial wrongdoing with any staff member, chef, student or nuns in any manner and the article has been published only to harm his reputation and of the missionaries.
He claimed that the article has been published to prejudice his elevation to a hierarchical position, on which he is expected to be appointed soon and that the piece has been published without verification of the allegations and is leading to tarnishing the plaintiff’s image, reputation and goodwill which he has garnered with hard work over the years.
The court said the names of the institutions with which the plaintiff is concerned are being deliberately omitted in the order for the sake of anonymity and the reputation of those institutions.
It said the plaintiff has made out a prima facie case that the article is damaging and tarnishing his image in the society and as long as the article continues to remain in the public domain, it is likely to continue causing damage to his reputation.
“Balance of convenience also lies in favour of the plaintiff and against the defendants. Irreparable harm and injury shall be caused to the reputation of the plaintiff if the defamatory article continues on the social media platforms of the defendants,” the high court said.
It further said, “In view of the aforesaid, an ex parte ad-interim injunction is passed against the defendants, directing the defendants, their partners, directors, servants, agents and/or any other person acting on their behalf to remove the offending article available at the website of defendant no. 1 (Bharat Prakashan (Delhi) Ltd).