By Biodun Busari
An Indian court has sentenced the country’s opposition leader Rahul Gandhi to two years in prison over a criminal defamation case.
Gandhi was convicted by the court in Gujarat state for 2019 comments about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surname during an election rally, BBC reported on Thursday.
Meanwhile, the report said he will not go to jail immediately, and as such, was granted bail for 30 days and will file an appeal against the conviction.
The Congress party MP was present in court for sentencing, which comes a year before general elections are due.
Gandhi committed a defamation offence while speaking at an election rally in Karnataka state in April 2019, ahead of the last general election.
At the event, he said, “Why do all these thieves have Modi as their surname? Nirav Modi, Lalit Modi, Narendra Modi.”
Nirav Modi is a fugitive Indian diamond tycoon while Lalit Modi is a former chief of the Indian Premier League who has been banned for life by the country’s cricket board. And Narendra Modi is the Prime Minister.
Gandhi argued that he had made the comment to highlight corruption and it was not directed against any community.
The case against him was filed on the basis of a complaint by Purnesh Modi, a lawmaker from India’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party, who said that Gandhi’s comments had defamed the entire Modi community.
Legal scholar Gautam Bhatia tweeted that “references to a generic class of persons” – surnames in this case – are not “actionable unless an individual can show a direct reference to themselves”.
“If a man says ‘all lawyers are thieves’, then I, as a lawyer, cannot file a case against him for defamation unless I can show its imputation aimed at me,” Bhatia said.
India’s criminal defamation law is British-era legislation under which there can be a maximum prison sentence of two years, a fine or both, BBC said.
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