The force of a government should not be used to browbeat political opinion, the Supreme Court said on Thursday, adding that in a diverse country like India, there were bound to be different points of view, Bar and Bench reported.
The court made the remark while quashing the cases filed by the West Bengal government in 2020 against OpIndia editors Nupur Sharma and Ajeet Bharti and the news website’s Chief Executive Officer Rahul Roushan, according to Live Law.
The cases had been registered in connection with OpIndia’s news reports on the communal violence that had taken place in West Bengal’s Hooghly district in May last year, according to ThePrint.
The website’s editors and chief executive officer had been charged under Sections 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace), 505 (statements conducing to public mischief) and 153A (promoting enmity between religious groups) of the Indian Penal Code, Bar and Bench reported.
Four first information reports were filed against them.
After the cases were filed, the website’s editors and chief executive officer had approached the Supreme Court, accusing the police in West Bengal of suppressing press freedom, according to Live Law. They claimed that action was taken against them for criticising the West Bengal government.
OpIndia editors claimed that other news portals had also carried similar reports, but only their website was selectively targeted by the West Bengal government.
Three FIRs filed against them were stayed by the Supreme Court in June last year, according to Bar and Bench. In September, the court imposed a stay on the fourth as well.
As the court heard the case on Thursday, the West Bengal government said it will withdraw the cases and that the judges can quash them, Live Law reported.
The Supreme Court appreciated the West Bengal government’s stand and added that this case should be an example for others.
“State force should never be used to either browbeat a political opinion or the journalists suffer the consequences of what is already in public domain,” the bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and MM Sundresh said, according to Bar and Bench.
The court added that the “debasement in dialogues” in India should be introspected by the political class, ThePrint reported. “In a country which prides itself on its diversity, there are bound to be different perceptions and opinions which include political opinions,” the judges said.
The judges added that this did not mean that journalists should not be responsible in their reporting “more so in a Twitter age”.