Sextortion is 'significant social menace', says Delhi HC

Court denies anticipatory bail to three accused

Delhi High Court | PTI Delhi High Court | PTI

Sextortion is a significant social menace and such cases pose a serious challenge to law enforcement due to their cross-jurisdictional nature, the Delhi High Court has said while refusing to grant anticipatory bail to three accused.

Justice Amit Mahajan, in an order released on Tuesday, said victims often suffer severe psychological trauma and flagged concerns about privacy and dignity in such cases.

"Sextortion represents a profound violation of privacy and is a significant social menace. It involves the exploitation of obtained intimate images and videos to extort money or favours from victims, often leading to severe psychological trauma," the judge said.

"This cyber-enabled crime not only undermines individual dignity but also poses serious challenges to law enforcement due to its clandestine and cross-jurisdictional nature," Justice Mahajan said, adding a bail order "cannot be granted routinely" in such matters .

In the present case, an amount of Rs 16 lakh was extorted from the complainant by persons posing as police officials and YouTube officials after he received a WhatsApp video call from an unknown woman who recorded their "private" call.

Money was extorted from him on the pretext of removing the video from social media platforms as well as by threatening to implicate him in the alleged suicide by the woman in the video.

The prosecution opposed the pleas for pre-arrest bail by three applicants, stating that all the accused were active members of an organised crime syndicate being run for carrying out an organised crime of sextortion.

The court, in the order, observed that the investigation has unearthed multiple complaints, which revealed the habitual engagement of the accused in such criminal practices and the scale of operation, at this stage, seemed to be "humongous".

"The accused persons in the present case have alleged to have made a woman contact the victim/complainant through video calls and messages and got his video clip. They then threatened to make the video viral on social media.

"Later, the victim was conveyed that the woman who undressed in the video clip had committed suicide," the court said.

"The accused persons posed themselves to be police officials and forged ID Card. During the analysis on the National Cyber Reporting Portal, a total number of 10 complaints have been found, in which innocent people have been cheated by the same accused persons through the same modus operandi thereby indicating that the present case is not a one-off instance," added the court.

Dismissing the anticipatory bail applications, the court stated that the material presented by the prosecution established the prima facie involvement of the accused.

The SIM cards of the applicants were used in more than 50 different devices within a span of two years and the digital records and communication linked them to the alleged offence, added the court.

It said there were disclosure statements of a co-accused which required investigation, and since the applicants failed to cooperate with the investigation, granting anticipatory bail to them would undoubtedly impede further investigation.

"Dismantling such a complex modus operandi, which is alleged to have been used by the applicants and the other accused persons, by its very nature, requires thorough investigation and custodial interrogation which ought not to be curtailed," the court stated.

"An order of bail cannot be granted routinely so as to allow the applicant to use the same as a shield," it said. 

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