The Bombay High Court on Thursday quashed a case filed against a journalist for allegedly abetting the suicide of Indian Army soldier Lance Naik Roy Mathew in March 2017, The Indian Express reported. Mathew committed suicide days after he appeared in a sting video published by The Quint, in which he accused his seniors of harassment.
Poonam Agarwal, the journalist who conducted the sting, was booked by the Nashik Police for spying, criminal trespass, defamation and abetting suicide. She was also accused of carrying out a sting operation in a prohibited area,W and charges were filed under the Official Secrets Act. The Army had accused the journalist of posing “leading questions” to Mathew.
Kargil war veteran Deepchand Singh, who assisted Agarwal, was also booked. Both the accused were granted bail in April 2017.
Dismissing the First Information Report against the two, a division bench of Justices Ranjit More and Bharati Dangre on Thursday said the journalist had not done anything to harm national interest, and the Army acted in a “vindictive” manner by filing the case, PTI reported.
“She did not have any intention to go and commit an offence,” the judges said. “We do not understand why you [Army] are so vindictive.”
The Quint called the verdict an “important victory for press freedom”. Agarwal told The Indian Express that she felt vindicated. “The fight is not over,” she added. “Now, I will focus on my Supreme Court petition which is against the sahayak system in the Army, how OSA [Official Secrets Act] is misused against journalists and which calls for a fair investigation into the unnatural death of Mathew.”
Under the British-era sahayak system, soldiers are assigned to senior Army officers to provide them “essential support”. However, in The Quint’s video published on February 24, 2017, several Army jawans told Agarwal that officers made them do personal and menial work as well, such as walking dogs and taking their children to school and their wives to parlours.
The identities of the jawans were concealed in the video. Lance Naik Roy Mathew was one of the jawans who appeared in the clip, which was shot with a hidden camera.
The next day, Mathew went missing from his camp. He was found dead a week later. The police allegedly found a suicide note written in Malayalam in which Mathew said he feared he would have to face a court martial for speaking out against the Army.
The Quint later took the article off its website “in the interest of the investigation and to ensure that the other jawans who appeared in the video were not harassed and driven to the same fate by officers whose misconduct was exposed”.