The Supreme Court today ordered the quashing of the FIR against the country’s renowned journalist Vinod Dua related to sedition and other crimes. In a YouTube show of Vinod Dua, a case of sedition was registered in Himachal Pradesh Facts Elsewhere for criticism related to criticism of the government. Justice U.U.Larith and Justice Vineet Saran had reserved the judgment after the final hearing held on October 6.
The bench said, “Every journalist is entitled to protection under the Kedar Nath Singh case (which defines the scope of the offense of sedition under Section 124A of the IPC).”
An FIR was lodged against Vinod Dua on May 6 at Kumarsain police station in Shimla district for “offences of sedition, public nuisance, printing of defamatory material and public mischief” under the provisions of the Indian Penal Code. Shyam had alleged that Dua in his YouTube show had accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of using “deaths and terror attacks” to get votes. Along with this, BJP’s Delhi spokesperson Naveen Kumar had also filed a sedition case against Vinod Dua.
The Supreme Court, while hearing on June 14 last year, had granted protection to Vinod Dua from arrest till further orders. However, the court refused to stay the ongoing investigation against Dua.
“Every journalist is entitled to the protection under the Kedar Nath Singh judgment(which defined the ambit of offence of sedition under Section 124A IPC)”, the bench observed.
In the case Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar(1962), the Supreme Court had read down Section 124A IPC and held that the application of the provision should be limited to “acts involving intention or tendency to create disorder or disturbance of law and order; or incitement to violence”.
The bench however refused the second prayer made by Vinod Dua seeking the formation of a committee to verify allegations against journalists before lodging FIR and that no FIR should be registered against a journalist with experience over 10 years unless cleared by the committee. The Court said that this prayer would be an encroachment into the legislative domain.
The FIR against Dua under provisions of Indian Penal Code for offences of sedition, public nuisance, printing defamatory materials and public mischief was lodged by BJP leader Shyam at Kumarsain police station in Shimla district on May 6 and the journalist was asked to join the probe.
Shyam has alleged that Dua, in his YouTube show, accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of using “deaths and terror attacks” to get votes.
Earlier, in an extraordinary hearing conducted on a Sunday on June 14 last year, the top court had granted protection from arrest to Dua till further orders. However, it had refused to stay the ongoing probe against him.
It had asked Dua will have to join the investigation through video-conferencing or online mode as offered by him in his response to the summons issued by the police seeking his personal appearance.
Besides seeking quashing of the FIR, Dua, in the plea, has sought “exemplary damages” for “harassment”.
He has also sought direction from the apex court 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 has said freedom of the press is a fundamental right guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.
The plea said the top court has been “emphasizing for distancing the police from the ruling party in the state” but “none of the major political parties which are in power in various states are ready to give up their control over the police”.
“There is a recent trend against the media where state governments which 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 claimed.
Lodging of FIR and coercive steps against Dua amounted to “direct and brazen violation” of his fundamental rights, the plea said.
Vinod Dua is very ill these days. He and his wife are in the hospital with problems related to Covid.
Vinod Dua had filed a petition calling freedom of the press a fundamental right. The petition said that the freedom of the press is a fundamental right guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.
Vinod Dua has also sought punitive damages for harassment in addition to seeking quashing of the FIR registered against him. He has sought a direction from the Supreme Court that FIRs should not be lodged against the media unless cleared by a committee constituted by each state government. The committee should primarily consist of a High Court judge or a judge nominated by him, the Leader of the Opposition and the State Home Minister.
This decision which came in favour of Vinod Dua is of historical importance. These days, all the journalists who criticize the government are on target and the supporters of the government often file a sedition case against them. Hopefully, this trend will stop now.