The Gujarat High Court (HC) has quashed a sedition case registered against a journalist for allegedly publishing a report in May suggesting a leadership change in Gujarat due to criticism over rising coronavirus cases in the state.
The order by a single-judge bench of Justice R P Dholaria came after the journalist, Dhaval Patel, editor and owner of Face of Nation, filed an unconditional apology “without admission of any guilt” for the “allegedly offending article”.
According to police, Dhaval Patel allegedly wrote a news story on May 7, titled ‘Mansukh Mandaviya called by high command, chances of leadership change in Gujarat’. Mandaviya is a Union minister and a Rajya Sabha MP from Gujarat.
The story mentioned that Covid-19 cases have been increasing in Gujarat, the “failure” of the Gujarat CM has been noted by New Delhi, and that Mandaviya was called by the BJP high command, due to which there were speculation of a leadership change in the state.
Following the article Patel was booked under IPC section 124 A (sedition) and Disaster Management Act section 54 (Punishment for false warning). Dhaval was arrested in May this year and had remained in Sabarmati Central Jail for 15 days. Subsequently, he had moved the court, seeking setting aside of the FIR against him.
In its order, dated November 6, the bench of Justice Dholaria stated, “…since the present petitioner is young journalist and he has begun his career and that from the deepest corner of his heart, the petitioner has tendered apology…therefore, this court is satisfied with the apology tendered by the petitioner. Under the circumstances, this court is of the considered opinion that interest of justice would be served if the present proceedings/FIR are quashed (sic).”
The court also cautioned Patel from writing any such article in future and stated, “The impugned FIR/proceedings are quashed and set aside with a caution to the petitioner that as and when he may publish any article in future, no such comments be used against any constitutional functionaries without verification and he shall be cautious of not repeating the same.”
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