The Bombay high court on Monday said content posted by two individuals and their organisations against vaccine manufacturing major Serum Institute of India (SII) was 'prima facie defamatory' and directed them to delete it.
A single bench of Justice R I Chagla also temporarily restrained them from posting any content against the company.
The SII filed a defamation suit in December 2022 seeking damages to the tune of Rs 100 crore from the two individuals and their organisations for allegedly posting erroneous content against the company and its COVID-19 vaccine Covishield.
The company had filed an interim application seeking the court to direct the defendants to delete their posts and to restrain them from posting such content pending final disposal of the suit.
The high court, in its interim order on Monday, said it was of the prima facie view the SII has satisfied the contents and accusations made by the two persons were defamatory.
The bench noted that SII and its CEO and owner Adar Poonawalla have been considered to have saved four million lives in India with their vaccine.
'I am of the prima facie view that the contents are per se defamatory. The vaccine is not banned. No case is made out by the defendants,' the judge said in the interim order.
The court will at a later date take up the company's suit for final hearing.
The HC directed the defendants to delete all their posts and content against the company and temporarily restrained them from posting any such content further until the suit is heard and decided.
The bench noted that a perusal of the contents posted by the defendants show there are words used against SII claiming it has 'murdered millions by their vaccine', that the company and Adar Poonawalla are consequently 'murderers and criminals' and that the company should be shut down and Poonawalla should be arrested and put in jail.
'It was necessary for these defendants to produce material to justify these allegations against the plaintiffs (SII and Poonawalla),' the court said in its order.
'Far from the plaintiffs being 'murderers' and 'criminals', the plaintiffs have been considered to have saved four millions lives in India,' HC said relying on an affidavit submitted in November 2022 in the Supreme Court by the Union government in another matter.
The bench also directed the defendants to issue an unconditional apology stating the defamatory contents were baseless, unsubstantiated and unwarranted.
The SII in its suit claimed the defendants -- Yohan Tengra, his organisation Anarchy for Freedom India, and Ambar Koiri and his organisation Awaken India Movement -- had been posting and circulating defamatory content against the company and its COVID-19 vaccine Covishield.
The suit said the defendants had also been posting incorrect information that implied the Covishield vaccine was the cause of deaths of multiple persons due to side-effects.
The posts were not only targeting the SII, but also its Chief Executive Officer Adar Poonawalla, it said.
The plea sought the HC to restrain the defendants from publishing, circulating any content against the SII or its employees.