The Supreme Court on Friday stayed FIRs registered by West Bengal Police against editors of news portal OpIndia and gave protection from arrest to news anchor Amish Devgan, who faces multiple FIRs over remarks made during a TV show.
The plea by OpIndia editor Nupur Sharma was taken up via video-conference by a vacation bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and B R Gavai.
The petition pointed out that West Bengal police had registered three FIRs against OpIndia staffers Sharma, Ajeet Bharti and Rahul Roushan over reports on the website. It said although other news outlets also carried write-ups on the subject, the police had singled out OpIndia, and the “authoritarian Kolkata police” was using registration of FIRs as an excuse to “intimidate journalists” in getting online content and reports critical of the state government deleted.
The police even questioned their family members, and despite repeated requests had refused to supply them a copy of the FIRs, or to upload them on official website, the petitioners stated.
They stated that the state government has “blatantly misused” police powers under CrPC to “scuttle bona fide instances of journalism”, thereby violating the fundamental to free speech.
The police had asked them to take down certain content from the OpIndia website and Twitter, and warned them of repercussions if they failed to do so, the plea said.
They also pointed out that there is a regulatory mechanism to oversee internet content as per Section 69A of Information Technology Act and sought a direction from the court to exclude police in matters concerning deletion of internet content.
Devgan’s plea came up before a bench of Justices A M Khanwilkar and Dinesh Maheshwari, which directed that no coercive action should be taken against him until the first week of July over FIRs for allegedly hurting religious sentiments. The court also stayed the investigation in the matter.
Devgan, an anchor with News 18 India channel, had approached the court seeking quashing of the FIRs.
Appearing for Devgan, senior advocate Siddharth Luthra told the court that the anchor had already tendered a public apology on the issue, as he had confused names. “It was unfortunate and happened in the heat of the moment,” he said and urged the court to consolidate the FIRs against him in different states in this regard.
Luthra told the court that FIRs have been filed against Devgan in Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Telangana. An FIR was also lodged in Uttar Pradesh against threats made to the journalist’s life.
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