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Freedom of press not absolute: Bombay HC slams journalist Waahiid Ali Khan for defaming Dubai-based gold-trader Khanjan Thakkar in Mahadev App case

Waahiid Ali Khan had accused Khanjan Thakkar of being a hawala operator and involved in the Mahadev Betting case.

The Bombay High Court highlighted that a person’s fundamental right to reputation cannot be violated by using press freedom as a justification. The ruling was made after the court’s consideration of an interim plea filed by Dubai-based gold merchant Khanjan Thakkar (Plaintiff) who requested the removal of offensive material against him from social media. He mentioned that one Waahiid Ali Khan disseminated inaccurate and disparaging material while posing as an investigative journalist. Khanjan Thakkar also filed a Rs 100 crore defamation case against him in the order passed on 2nd April.

“The freedom of the press, which is being evolved as a species of speech, definitely will have to be balanced against a right, which an individual has to his reputation,” declared Justice Bharati Dangre who was presiding over the case. The court ordered the journalist to take down online articles and videos that were directed at the businessman accusing him of being involved in the Mahadev betting scam. The court stated that although the truth is a complete defence against charges of libel and slander, journalists must abide by the boundaries of the right to free speech and expression.

The notion that journalists might assert immunity by just stating that material was given to them and was in the public interest was rejected by the court. It added that publications that wreck someone’s reputation are not justified by investigative journalism, even in cases when there is an apparent public interest.

“Investigative Journalism definitely does not enjoy any special protection and the umbrage of public interest definitely does not permit a publication, which would amount to lowering down the reputation of any person, in any manner, particularly without justifying the publication on the basis of its truthfulness,” the court noted.

The court additionally pointed out that videos and articles lacked reliable sources and did not further the public interest, underlining the difficulty of cyber defamation in the digital age. The court stressed that a journalist’s track record of uncovering fraud does not give him the right to write or publish anything that could incite animosity, mockery or disdain for the plaintiff and does not release the journalist from accountability for their activities to simply argue that these publications serve the public interest.

“Every man possesses an inherent personal right to have his reputation reserved inviolate,” the court asserted focusing on the need to strike a balance between an individual’s right to capitalize on their reputation and the freedom of speech and expression of others.

The legal counsel for Waahiid Ali Khan contended that his actions were an exercise of his constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech and expression and that it was his fundamental responsibility as a journalist to spread information for the public good. “A journalist or reporter is not expected to transgress the limits of his right of speech and expression and cannot claim protection by simply stating that the information was provided to him by someone and it is in the public interest to divulge the same,” the order read.

The court conveyed, “While journalists have a duty to inform the public, it cannot be at the expense of defaming the plaintiff.” As a result, the court mandated that Waahiid Ali Khan retract the disputed articles and videos. In addition, he was placed under temporary injunction by the court to refrain from printing, publishing, selling, exhibiting or circulating the contested articles as well as from streaming or distributing the video on any social media site or other public domain platform until the lawsuit is heard and decided.

He is also not allowed to take part in any other actions that could be construed as slandering the plaintiff. He has one week from the date of the upload of the order to carry out the instruction. The plaintiff is free to use the interim application to pursue more remedies in the case of non-compliance.

Background of the case

The journalist uploaded a number of pieces and videos against the businessman, making unfounded and defamatory claims, according to the application, which was launched after Mumbai police listed the man as an accused in a case involving Mahadev online betting/gambling application.

On 13th December of last year, Waahiid Ali Khan uploaded a video and took the names of Ravi Uppal, Sahil Khan and Khanjan Jagdish Thakkar, among others. He claimed that Khanjan Thakkar played a major role in the hawala transactions to Pakistan, according to his sources. He portrayed Thakkar as one of the primary offenders and claimed that he and the other accused parties in the case would be deported to India. According to the journalist, Khanjan Thakkar’s name appeared in the First Information Report as well. He disclosed that Amit Majithia who is a kingpin behind such operations also named Khanjan Thakkar as a significant middleman for a long time who transferred millions of rupees from India to their people in Dubai.

On 15th December 2023, the journalist stated his post with, “Sahil Khan small time actor wanted, including Khanjan Thakkar. He further wrote that Sahil Khan and three other actors had received summonses from the Mumbai Cyber Cell’s Special Investigating Team (SIT) regarding the Mahadev app online betting incident. An alleged unlawful betting enterprise of Rs 15,000 crore is at issue in this case.

The journalist claimed, “Actor Sahil Khan, his brother Sam Khan, Hitesh Khusalani, and Amit Sharma have been instructed to appear before the SIT on Friday for questioning. This development follows the rejection of Sahil Khan’s anticipatory bail plea by a sessions court earlier this week. 32 accused names are there in Mumbai Police FIR Including Khanjan Jagdish Thakkar as a hawala operator.”

On 16th December 2023, Waahiid Ali Khan posted that Khanjan Thakkar was absconding on his social media. He uploaded the speech of Maharashtra’s deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis in the assembly to claim that the government has formed an SIT that will submit its investigation report in two months and all the thirty-two people mentioned in the official complaint won’t be spared. The culprits will be brought back to India.

The journalist reiterated that Khanjan Thakkar is a hawala operator and has taken crores of amount from India to Dubai. He claimed that Khanjan Thakkar had been accused by Ahmedabad’s Sandesh newspaper of transporting around Rs 200 crore to Dubai through the World Cup. He conveyed, “He has a big business in Dubai and his paternal or maternal uncle Jagdish Thakkar is also involved in this nexus. Khanjan Thakkar’s name has clearly been mentioned by Sandesh in its investigative report which noted that he has taken Rs 200 crore to Pakistan and Dubai and is a big name in the hawala racket.”

Waahiid Ali Khan challenged, “Khanjan even if you consider yourself as Raja Harishchandra and claim to be innocent. You send defamation notices to news channels and media houses but it is true that your name is in the FIR and that is how the media is getting information. How many people will you register complaints against and how many defamation lawsuits will you file? I kindly ask you to travel to India and attempt to establish your innocence in front of law enforcement and courts.”

He then charged, “He (Khanjan Thakkar) is involved with many people who have ties with the D (Dawood Ibrahim) company. He does refute these allegations but denial won’t do anything as you are facing serious allegations and your name is in the FIR. You will have to come here. Since your name is on the FIR, I don’t think it will matter what defamation notices you submit to the media outlets. The media performs its duties. You don’t have to use your notices to intimidate the media. The lawyers are charging you and wasting your money.”

The journalist then again charged, “On the other hand, you have made hundreds of crores through hawala. It has already been proclaimed by our Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, and our Home Minister, Amit Shah, that you people would not be dispersed, regardless of your associations with the Congress and its prominent leaders which have also been unveiled. There won’t be enough ground for you to flee. So, I suggest that you travel to India and let the legal system decide.”

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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OpIndia Staff
OpIndia Staff
Staff reporter at OpIndia

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