How Criminal Defamation Law plays deterrent to the victims opening up under the #MeToo Movement?

Number of women has come out in support of the #MeToo movement narrating the trauma they have gone through. Often the perpetuators of crime are powerful. These powerful are using the route of criminal defamation. The burden of defamation suit may act as a deterrent to the women in opening up against the harassment.

Why defamation suits can be deterrent?

  • Defamation law must strike a balance between the freedom of expression and the right to reputation. The defamation law in India is criticized for stifling the freedom of speech and expression in the guise of protecting reputation.
  • Section 499 which criminalizes defamation is a weapon for powerful individuals to silence critical or inconvenient speech. Defamation being a criminal offence a conviction entails both social stigma and potential jail time.
  • The defamation law in India is such that it requires a low threshold by complainant to establish a prima facie case and the accused has a multiple layers like demonstrating that the statement was true and in public interest, or that it was an opinion made in good faith, and concerning a public question and these too must be demonstrated only after the trail begins. This makes the process cumbersome for the accused.
  • In civil defamation one has to show only that the statement as true but in criminal defamation the accused must show that the statement is true and also in public interest. This leads to a paradoxical situation which is more advantageous against those at the receiving end of civil defamation proceedings, and harsher towards those who have to go through the criminal process.

The aftermath impact of the #Metoo movement has shown that the suit of defamation can be used to silence the victims. Hence the Supreme Court must reconsider its verdict on upholding the constitutional validity of the criminalization of defamation.


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