With Arnab Goswami failing to get a relief from Bombay High Court, the possibility of the Republic TV Editor-in-Chief approaching Supreme Court has increased. Although he will initially approach the sessions court for his bail, he has been hounded by several cases by Mumbai police, and it is likely that those cases will eventually end up at the apex court. It that context, it is pertinent to revise how the cases involving other journalists progressed at various courts, including the Supreme Court.
HW News journalist Vinod Dua, accused in a sedition case, filed a petition in the Supreme Court in June, 2020. The Supreme Court was pleased to schedule a special sitting and hear the matter on Sunday. The Court was further inclined to issue Notice in a petition filed under Article 32 despite there being a more than efficacious remedy for quashing of FIR under section 482 CrPC being available to Vinod Dua.
The apex Court had promptly granted relief against arrest and subsequently granted relief from even participating in the investigation. Effectively the Supreme Court ensured that no effective investigation takes place against Vinod Dua in the FIR registered in Himachal Pradesh.
Previously, Vinod Dua had approached Delhi High Court in an FIR registered by Delhi Police seeking quashing of the FIR. The Delhi High Court was pleased to directly stay the entire FIR and subsequently, quashed the same.
A case was been registered against Vinod Dua by a local BJP leader Ajay Shyam in Shimla for making false allegations against BJP, especially Prime Minister Modi on his YouTube show on March 30. On the basis of the complaint, Dua was summoned by the police in Himachal for questioning. However, the controversial journalist had used his health, age and lockdown protocols as an excuse to evade questioning and did not turn up at the Kumarsain police station. A similar complaint was also registered against in Delhi accusing him of misreporting the Delhi riots and also on charges of creating a public nuisance by false reporting.
Vinod Dua was charged under sections 124A (sedition), 268 (public nuisance), 501 (printing matter known to be defamatory) and 505 (statements conducive to public mischief). On the other hand, he claims that he has been targeted for criticising the govt.
When the UP police registered an FIR against Siddharth Varadhrajan of The WIRE form spreading fake news about Yogi Adityanath, the Allahabad High Court had promptly granted anticipatory bail to him. The FIR was filed after the Founder-Editor of The Wire had took quotes of an expelled mahant and misattributed them to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. As he had refused to delete the fake news from his Twitter handle despite requested by UP govt, the govt had proceeded to take action against him. But he had managed to secure protection from the High Court.
Similarly, when journalist Dhaval Patel, editor of a Gujarat website called Face of Nation, was arrested in Gujarat on charges of sedition, the Sessions Courts in Gujarat was pleased to grant bail. The court had said that the FIR and other documents filed by the police did not appear to establish the charge of sedition.
The FIR was filed after the website by Patel had published a news claiming that Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani may be replaced with union minister Mansukh Mandaviya, because the state administration poorly handled the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. While a court had sent him to police custody saying he tried to destabilise the govt by spreading fake news about change in leadership, the sessions court said that the charges were not proved, and hence had granted him bail.
In a similar case, Supreme Court had stayed an FIR registered against Yogesh Kumar Holkar in October this year. The journalist had covered the 2018 Bharat Bandh protests in Morena, Madhya Pradesh, while the police had accused him of participating in the protests.
Yogesh Kumar Holkar is a journalist for local newspaper ‘Dainik Chambal Surkhi’, and a total of five FIRs were registered him. When he had approached the High Court to quash the FIRs, the court had refused to so, because the trial had already started in the case. After that when he approached the Supreme Court, the court accepted his plea and granted stay in the FIR. The apex court had also stayed further proceedings in the case, even though it was being heard by trial court.
Contrast the same with the case against four journalists from West Bengal and Maharashtra. When the journalists approached the Supreme Court with evidence of corruption by high level functionaries including ministers along with the sting operations conducted by them, multiple FIRs were registered against journalists Bhupendra Pratap Singh, Abhishek Singh, Hemant Chowrasia and Ayush Kumar Singh by the West Bengal police. But apart from granting protection from arrest, the Supreme Court has not thought it fit to list the matter for the past six months. The Kolkata Police had booked the journalists in January alleging that the sting operation was a bid to extort money from politicians.
The said journalists were in fact directed by the Supreme Court to cooperate with a vindictive state machinery and had to flee the state to avoid being persecuted under some other criminal proceeding. Despite there being ample evidence of high-level corruption, and a specific request being made to transfer the cases to the CBI, there has been no movement on that front. The journalists had approached the Supreme Court after the High Court had rejected their plea, saying that the sting operation was still a criminal act even if it was for public interest.
Similarly, when more than 200 FIRs with verbatim text were registered against Arnab Goswami and he approached the Supreme Court in relation to the Palghar lynching episode, the court declined to quash the FIR and merely consolidated the same in Mumbai and relegated the case to be heard by the Bombay high Court. When the Maharashtra Police filed another FIR against Arnab Goswami and Republic TV in relation to the purported TRP Scam, Republic TV moved Supreme Court seeking protection from arrest. Despite seeking urgent mentioning and listing of the matter, the petition was listed only after some time had elapsed and the court declined to intervene observing that it would be appropriate for the petitioner to approach the Bombay High Court.
Again, when Arnab Goswami was arrested by Mumbai police in the old case which was closed by court, the Bombay High Court refused to grant him interim relief, saying they need to hear the entire case even for granting bail. This is despite the fact the CJM court which had declined police remand of Goswami observed that police erred by reopening the case without taking necessary permission from court.