Disha Ravi asks Delhi HC to restrain police from leaking information to media; Delhi police asked to file affidavit denying leaks

THE Delhi High Court Thursday issued notice to the Delhi police, Central Government, Times Now, India Today and News18 on a petition filed by climate activist Disha Ravi seeking directions to restrain the Delhi police from leaking investigation material to a third party, including the media, in connection with the Toolkit case.

Notice has also been issued notice News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA).

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, for Delhi police, submitted that there had been no leakage of any messages from them and that he was willing to file an affidavit to this effect as well.

Justice Pratibha Singh directed the police to file an affidavit.

Senior advocate Akhil Sibal, for Disha, submitted that her mobile phone and laptop were seized by the police and thus there was no possibility of any messages having been leaked by her. Moreover, the media had claimed that they got the WhatsApp messages from police sources.

To this, Justice Singh said the matter required consideration.

Disha also sought a direction to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to take appropriate action against News18, India Today, and Times Now for publishing the contents/extracts of alleged private WhatsApp chats.

The plea also urged the court to direct the named news channels to take down the tweets as well as the reports publishing the WhatsApp conversation between the petitioner and Greta Thunberg.

It asked the court to restrain all private satellite TV channels from further disseminating any alleged private WhatsApp messages or any other private conversations of the petitioner till the conclusion of the trial.

In her plea, Disha averred that she was severely aggrieved and prejudiced by the media trial surrounding her arrest and the ongoing investigation, where she was being “viscerally attacked” by the Delhi police and several media houses on the basis of leaked investigative matter and prejudicial press briefings, which, she asserted, was grossly violative of her right to a fair trial and presumption of innocence.

“The illegal actions and omissions on part of the respondents has irrevocably violated the petitioner’s fundamental right to privacy, her right to reputation, her dignity, and the consequent effect of the administration of justice and right to fair trial – all guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution”, the petition read.

Disha has alleged that the Delhi police leaked investigative material by way of her alleged WhatsApp chats, the substance and details of which were only in the possession of the Investigating Agency.

She added that her mobile phone and laptop were seized by the police at around 11 am on 13.02.2021, and had not been accessed by her since then. She, thus, submitted that only the Delhi police had access to the contents of the petitioner’s private conversations and any leaks of the same would necessarily constitute the commission of a cognizable offence and would be a violation of her dignity, reputation, and fundamental right to privacy, guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.

The plea also contended that the media had published one-sided defamatory, suggestive innuendos, and half truths about Ravi, such as the petitioner had “admitted during the initial interrogation to editing…the ‘toolkit’” (DNA); that “Disha Ravi has reportedly confessed before Delhi police that she has been in touch with several questionable entities” (Zee News); and that “Reportedly, the ‘climate activist’ had also tried to conceal details about her acquaintance with accused Nikita Jacob” that severely prejudice the petitioner, undermine her presumption of innocence, and violate her right to fair trial, thereby affecting the administration of justice.

Twenty-two-year-old  Disha Ravi was arrested on Saturday, February 13, by the ‘Cyber Cell’ of the Delhi police, from her residence in Bengaluru. The following day, she was taken to New Delhi and remanded to the custody of the police for five days by the duty magistrate of the Patiala House court in New Delhi.

The young activist was arrested on the basis of an FIR filed on February 4 by this cell against “unknown persons” for sharing the controversial ‘Toolkit’ on the ongoing farmer’s protest on social media platforms. This toolkit was tweeted by renowned climate activist Greta Thunberg, drawing global attention to the protests of farmers in India.

The sections in the FIR include 124A (sedition), 153A (promoting hatred amongst various communities on social/cultural/religious grounds) and 120B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code.