The Supreme Court Tuesday granted protection from arrest to Member of Parliament (MP) Shashi Tharoor and journalists Rajdeep Sardesai, Vinod K Jose, Mrinal Pande, Zafar Agha, Anath Nath and Paresh Nath following the multiple FIRs registered against them for allegedly sharing misleading information on Twitter regarding the death of a protestor during the tractor rally carried out by protesting farmers on Republic Day.
A bench led by CJI SA Bobde also issued notice to the Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Maharashtra, Delhi, and Madhya Pradesh governments calling for their response within two weeks.
A total of 10 FIRs have been slapped on the journalists.
Appearing for the Uttar Pradesh Government Solicitor General Tushar Mehta opposed the interim relief to the journalists. He said, “their tweets had a horrendous effect”. All of them have followers in lakhs”. At this CJI said, do argue the matter after two weeks.
Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, Mukul Rohtagi and Rebecca John for the petitioners stressed for interim protection in the meantime.
The CJI noted that the case was covered by earlier decisions of the Supreme Court in the Amish Devgan case and Arnab Goswamiand proceed to grant interim protection.
Most of the FIRs that have been filed invoke sections of the Indian Penal Code on sedition, criminal intimidation, promoting enmity, provocation to break the public peace, criminal conspiracy, outraging religious feelings, among others.
Sardesai, in his petition, emphasized on the fact that the tweets posted by him were mere allegations and were so mentioned; besides the tweet in question was deleted just 22 minutes later, when other facts related to the matter came to light.
He also pointed out that the violence at ITO and Red Fort had been curtailed by the Delhi Police before the tweet had been posted, hence the allegations that it directly resulted in the violence that ensued that day could not be held to be true.
While highlighting the impermissibility of filing several FIRs relating to the same course of action, the petitioners had also contended that the whole process seems to be an orchestrated event in the light of several facts. The similarity of language, the sections invoked and even the order in which the accused had been named in these FIRs suggested a unity of purpose “to misuse the process of law to target individuals and to spread fear.”
The petitions further stated that to criminally prosecute for sedition a journalist who was faithfully reporting events as they emerged caused irrevocable damage to the right of freedom of speech and expression. If the harassment faced by the petitioner is continued to stand, “it will completely demolish any notion of journalistic freedom and foster a situation where free reporting of news is an impossibility.”