The Supreme Court on Wednesday granted interim protection to news website The Wire and three of its reporters for two months in relation to three separate First Information Reports filed against them by the Uttar Pradesh Police, Live Law reported.
However, the court refused to entertain the writ petition filed by the Foundation for Independent Journalism, the trust that owns The Wire. The petition was filed challenging the three FIRs. The Supreme Court asked the petitioner to approach the concerned High Court to seek quashing of the FIRs.
The Uttar Pradesh Police had named three journalists – Seraj Ali, Mukul Singh Chauhan and Ismat Ara – in relation to three articles published on The Wire.
The reports were about death of a farmer during a protest in Delhi on January 26, assault on a Muslim man in Ghaziabad district of Uttar Pradesh and demolition of a mosque in the state’s Barabanki district.
The FIRs filed in Rampur, Ghaziabad and Barabanki districts booked the website and the journalists under Sections 153 (intent to cause riots), 153A (promoting enmity between different groups), 153B (making assertions prejudicial to national integration) and 505 (making statements conducing to public mischief) of the Indian Penal Code, Live Law reported.
In its petition, the Foundation for Independent Journalism submitted that the articles did not lead to any kind of unrest. “The fundamental assumption in these FIRs is that The Wire and its journalists have reported what they have with the intent to foment communal disharmony,” the petition noted.
The petition stated that to suggest that reporting verbatim claims of citizens could create disharmony was “most pernicious”.
“The criminal proceedings initiated against them [petitioners] amount to an abuse of the due process of law, and they also severely curtail the their right to free speech and expression, as well as that of carrying on their profession of journalism,” the plea said.
On Wednesday, a bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao, BR Gavai and BV Nagarathna said that the journalists should have approached the High Court instead of directly moving to the Supreme Court.
“We don’t want press to be stifled,” the court said. “But we cannot create separate avenue for journalists to come to this court directly under Article 32 [of the Constitution] for quashing FIRs.”
Article 32 of the Constitution gives the right to move writ petitions to the Supreme Court.
What are the three reports about?
Death of a farmer on Republic Day: A farmer Navreet Singh had died in Delhi on January 26 during a tractor rally held to protest against the Centre’s contentious agriculture laws. The Delhi Police had claimed that the farmer had died after his tractor overturned. However, speaking to The Wire, Singh’s family had claimed that he was shot dead.
Assault on a Muslim man: A video of an elderly Muslim man, identified as Abdul Samad, being assaulted in Ghaziabad district’s Loni area went viral on social media in June. The police had said that main accused Parvesh Gujjar and his associates assaulted Samad because he had allegedly sold them an amulet that had a “negative effect” on their families.
The Wire and seven others were booked by the police for “giving communal angle” to the assault.
Demolition of mosque in Barabanki: The district administration had claimed that the 100-year-old mosque in the district was an illegal residential complex and was demolished on orders from the sub-divisional magistrate’s court.
The Wire uploaded a video documentary on the demolition in which members of the mosque’s committee claimed that they had proof that the structure was legal.