New Delhi Sept 8(ILNS): The Supreme Court today granted two-month protection to three-journalist of “Foundation for Independent Journalism” in an FIR registered against them for offenses under Sections 153, 153A, 153B, 505 of the Indian Penal Code for Provocation of riots and other offenses for reporting and commenting on current affairs.
A bench led by Justice L Nageswara Rao said that journalists should not approach it directly to the Supreme Court for quashing of FIRs and asked them to approach the Allahabad High Court for the same relief and stated that it does not want freedom of the press to be muzzled.
The Court was hearing the plea filed by journalists from “The Wire” seeking quashing of FIRs across the State of Uttar Pradesh registered against them under the offenses of “giving provocation with intent to cause riot”, “promoting enmity between different groups”, “causing fear or alarm to the public” and “creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes”.
The Bench which also comprises Justice B. R. Gavai and Justice B. V. Nagarathna said, we understand the importance of the right to freedom of expression and we do not want the press to be strangled. However, we cannot open a different path for journalists by ordering them to quash the FIR.
In fact, three FIRs have been registered at different places in Uttar Pradesh (Rampur, Ghaziabad, and Barabanki) against three journalists associated with ‘the wire’. All of them had filed a petition in the Supreme Court demanding to quash the FIR.
Petitioners approached the apex court seeking an order restraining the Respondents from taking any coercive action in the cases filed against them. The said FIRs are filed solely on account of the journalistic reporting of various events and occurrences of public relevance, and amount to an unconscionable use of the criminal process, especially of Sections 153, 153A, 153B, 295-A, and 505 IPC.
Petitioners argued that none of the reports/publications amounts to any of the offenses in the FIRs. The Petitioners had also prayed for the issuance of appropriate guidelines to prevent this manner of use of the criminal process, which has a chilling effect on media freedoms and the right of the people to be informed.
The plea had contended that If the use of this power allowed to continue, it would adversely affect the accountability of State functionaries and institutions, and shroud social evils that the media has a duty to write and comment about.
It had given some examples of the incidents which was covered or published by the petitioners like the demolition of a mosque by state authorities at Ram Sanehi Ghat, Barabanki, UP; the death of a young man at the farmers’ agitation in New Delhi on January 26, 2021 and his family’s allegations as to the cause of his death; an incident where an old Muslim man was manhandled and his beard chopped off, and where he said he was forced to chant various slogans. The petitioners had argued that all these incidents are matters of record, in the public domain, and there is no suggestion of any unrest following the report of or comment on these incidents. The public interest in a discussion of such incidents is also undeniable. Yet these are all subjects of criminal prosecutions by Respondents, it said. /ILNS/DS/KR/SNG