THE SUPREME Court Sunday granted protection from arrest to senior journalist Vinod Dua in a case of sedition registered against him in Shimla over his YouTube broadcast on March 30 on the Centre’s “failure” in implementing the Covid lockdown. The court, however, declined to stay the FIR against Dua.
In a special sitting conducted through video conferencing, the court also issued notices to the Centre and the Himachal Pradesh government, asking them to file a reply in the matter within two weeks.
“Pending further orders, the petitioner shall not be arrested in connection with the present crime; However, the petitioner… shall extend full cooperation through video conferencing or online mode,” a Bench of Justices U U Lalit, Mohan M Shantanagoudar and Vineet Saran ordered.
“…the Himachal Pradesh Police shall be entitled to carry on the investigation including interrogation of the petitioner at his residence after giving him prior notice of 24 hours and complying with the Social Distancing norms prescribed during Covid-19 Pandemic,” the court ruled.
Issuing the notice, the Bench also said that “the affidavit in reply filed on behalf of the State shall indicate the steps taken during investigation and a complete Status Report shall be filed before the next date of hearing”.
It asked the Investigating Officer to be present if the hearing is resumed in open court or be available if the proceedings are taken up through video conferencing.
Dua had moved the court Saturday seeking quashing of the FIR registered on May 6 at the Kumarsain police station in Shimla. The FIR was registered on a complaint filed by Ajay Shyam, who was identified by Dua’s counsel, Senior Advocate Vikas Singh, as a BJP spokesman.
Singh said that the transcript of the video was available, argued that it did not amount to sedition, and offered to play it for the court. He argued that if what Dua said amounts to sedition, then only two channels will work in the country.
Seeking a stay on the FIR, Singh said: “Whatever the government does not find palpable, harassment continues. How many FIRs will I be harassed with?” But the Bench said it was not inclined to stay the investigation.
The court, meanwhile, told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who appeared for the Centre, that the complainant will also have to be impleaded in the case.
In his plea, Dua referred to his video as “a critical analysis of the failure of the Union of India in conducting the nationwide lockdown and the manner (in which) it was implemented”. The video also “mentioned” the “politicizing” of the cross-LoC strike “during the last elections”.
Dua said that “there is a recent trend against the media where state governments who 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 urged the court to “direct 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 said in the plea that he “has been critical of the government on certain issues and has raised the same in his YouTube telecast” and “one such telecast (on March 11, 2020) was with regard to the North-East Delhi riots and the same became the subject matter of a FIR in Delhi”. This FIR was stayed by the Delhi High Court on June 10.
Dua said in his plea that Himachal police reached his residence and asked him “to appear at Kumarsain Police Station which is 21 km beyond Shimla on the 13th of June, 2020 at 10 a.m. sharp”.
The petitioner pointed out that Himachal had mandated institutional quarantine of 15 days for people coming from the red zones. He was a resident of Delhi, which is a red zone, and travelling to Himachal would violate the government order, the plea said.
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