New Delhi, Jul 7 (PTI) The Supreme Court Tuesday extended till July 15 the protection granted to senior journalist Vinod Dua from any coercive action in a sedition case filed against him by a local BJP leader in Himachal Pradesh over his YouTube show and sought a report in a sealed cover on the probe conducted so far by the state police.
An FIR against Dua under provisions of Indian Penal Code for offences of sedition, public nuisance, printing defamatory materials and public mischief was lodged by BJP leader Shyam at Kumarsain police station in Shimla district on May 6 and the journalist was asked to join the probe.
Shyam has alleged that Dua, in his YouTube show, accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of using "deaths and terror attacks" to get votes.
A bench of Justices U U Lalit, M M Shantanagoudar and Vineet Saran, which had granted protection from arrest to Dua in an unprecedented hearing conducted on a Sunday on June 14, asked the Himachal Pradesh police to file the report on the probe conducted so far in the case and said that it would now fix the case for final disposal.
“What about the records of the investigation. What all has been done till now? File it in the registry in a sealed cover,” the bench said, adding that the earlier order will continue till then.
The bench also made clear that Dua, who has so far joined the police probe through virtual means, was not required to answer the supplementary questionnaire when his counsel and senior lawyer Vikas Singh alleged that the repeated questioning of the journalist amounted to harassment.
On June 14, a Sunday, the top court had restrained the Himachal Pradesh police from arresting Dua till "further orders".
However, it had refused to stay the ongoing probe against him. It had asked Dua will have to join the investigation “through video-conferencing or online mode” as offered by him in his response to the summons issued by the police seeking his personal appearance.
During the hearing, senior lawyer Vikas Singh said, “I have the freedom of speech and expression and have the right to criticise the government.
Police have refused to give us details on the nature of the complaint even though the Supreme Court has asked for a status report.”
He said Dua has already answered questions sent by the police and again another set of queries was sent and it would lead to harassment.
Besides seeking quashing of the FIR, Dua, in the plea, has sought "exemplary damages" for "harassment".
He has also sought direction from the apex court that "henceforth FIRs against persons belonging to the media with at least 10 years standing be not registered unless cleared by a committee to be constituted by every state government, the composition of which should comprise of the Chief Justice of the High Court or a Judge designated by him, the leader of the Opposition and the Home Minister of the State."
Dua has said freedom of the press is a fundamental right guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.
The plea said the top court has been "emphasizing for distancing the police from the ruling party in the state" but "none of the major political parties which are in power in various states are ready to give up their control over the police".
"There is a recent trend against the media where state governments which do not find a particular telecast to be in sync with their political ideologies register FIRs against persons of the media primarily to harass them and to intimidate them so that they succumb to the line of the state or else face the music at the hands of the police," the plea claimed.
Lodging of FIR and coercive steps against Dua amounted to "direct and brazen violation" of his fundamental rights, the plea said.
The plea claimed there is a concerted approach of authorities "to silence the media which is not palatable to them".
It alleged that the FIR registered against Dua is "politically motivated" and is "purely to settle scores for critically evaluating the functioning of the central government at the present time of COVID".
"The restriction imposed against free speech refers to issues which are a threat to public order, decency, morality, and the security of the state. In the case of the petitioner (Dua) facts which are publicly verifiable and are true have been treated as a ground for sedition and other serious offences which are far from the truth," it said.
The plea said Dua is a senior citizen with co-morbidities, including hypertension and diabetes. PTI SJK MNL ABA MNL RKS RKS
Disclaimer :- This story has not been edited by Outlook staff and is auto-generated from news agency feeds. Source: PTI