The Bombay High Court on Wednesday lifted the gag order on media reporting on the trial in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh alleged fake encounter case. Justice Revati Mohite-Dere said the ban on covering any part of the proceeding was contrary to law.
On November 29, 2017, when the special Central Bureau of Investigation court in Mumbai passed the order against media reportage of the trial, the defence had argued that publishing such details would affect the security of the prosecution lawyers, the accused and the defence team. The defence pointed out that media reports raising doubts about the death of CBI Judge Brijgopal Harkishan Loya, who had presided over the Sohrabuddin Sheikh case till he died, had led to apprehension about the possibility of any “untoward incident”.
The Bombay High Court judge on Wednesday said the CBI court had no power to gag the media, and that the defence counsel was unable to show any provision of law to support this. “Sensationalism cannot be the cause to prevent media from publishing,” Justice Mohite-Dere said. “Similarly, a mere allegation of a surcharged atmosphere cannot suffice. Nothing has been brought on record to substantiate the defendants’ contention that they are in fear of their life.”
The media serves a larger public purpose by disseminating information that will otherwise not be easily available to the people, the judge added.
“The press is the most powerful watchdog of the society,” Justice Mohite-Dere said. “A fair trial is one that balances the public interest of society. It is always open for prosecution if necessary to request the court to conceal the identity of the witness if the need so arises.”
In December 2017, a group of nine journalists, including Scroll.in Editor Naresh Fernandes, had moved the Bombay High Court against an order by the CBI court, which barred the media from reporting on the trial until further directions. The other petitioners include Founder Editor of The Wire Sidharth Bhatia, Sunilkumar Singh from NDTV, Sadaf Modak from The Indian Express, Mumbai Mirror’s Sunil Baghel and Sharmeen Hakim Indorewala, Rebecca Samervel from The Times of India, Vidya Kumar from India Today and Neeta Kolhatkar from The Free Press Journal.
The writ petition had asked for the order to be quashed as it was “bad in law”, “illegal” and a “major road block” for them in discharging their duties. The Brihanmumbai Union of Journalists had filed a similar petition.