The Allahabad High Court on Friday granted anticipatory bail to The Wire’s Founding Editor Siddharth Varadarajan, in connection with a case registered against him for an allegedly defamatory news report against Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath, Bar and Bench reported.
Justice Chandra Dhari Singh allowed anticipatory bail to Varadarajan after finding that there were reasonable grounds for his apprehension of arrest. Singh said if Varadarajan is arrested, he may be released on bail on furnishing a personal bond of Rs 2 lakh, along with two sureties of equal amount. The court also rejected the Uttar Pradesh government’s submission that Varadarajan may flee abroad as he has an American passport.
Varadarajan’s counsel said that the journalist is a permanent resident of Delhi. The counsel added that the journalist has deep roots in the Capital, apart from his family living there.
The court also dismissed the Uttar Pradesh government’s contention that no case could be made out in favour of the anticipatory bail since there is no reasonable apprehension of arrest of the applicant. “I do not find any merit in the argument advanced by learned additional advocate general, as the law discussed above in several judgments clarify the situation,” Justice Dhari said. “In view of the observations made, the instant anticipatory bail application...is allowed.”
On April 10, the Adityanath-led government served a notice to Varadarajan to appear in Ayodhya on April 14. The matter pertains to an article published in The Wire on March 31 against the backdrop of the controversy over the Tablighi Jamaat event in Delhi’s Nizamuddin area that left many participants infected with the coronavirus.
In a tweet, Varadarajan had mistakenly claimed that Adityanath said, “Lord Ram would protect devotees from the coronavirus.” The next day, he posted a clarification, noting that the statement had been made by Acharya Paramhans, the head of the Ayodhya temple trust, not by Adityanath. A correction was also made to The Wire’s article.
A first information report was filed on the basis of a complaint by Nitish Kumar Shrivastav, a resident of Faizabad in Uttar Pradesh. Mritunjay Kumar, the media advisor to Adityanath, had said on April 1 that action had been taken against Varadarajan since he had neither deleted the tweet nor apologised.
However, the counsel for Varadarajan argued on Friday that there was a small error in the news report, wherein the remark about Ram was attributed to Adityanath. The counsel said The Wire had corrected the mistake as soon as it was noticed, even before the FIR was filed.
“Any factual inaccuracies are not subject to any criminal action in law, even more so the offences with which the applicant has been charged,” the advocate said according to Live Law. He alleged that the FIR was filed in order to “muzzle free speech”. The counsel also argued that custodial interrogation of Varadarajan was not necessary since the FIR is related to an article and tweets, which are on record.
The Uttar Pradesh government claimed that there had been several communal incidents because of the tweet and article.
But the court said: “Right to life and personal liberty are one of the important fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution and therefore, no person should be confined or detained in any manner unless he has been held guilty.” It added that an anticipatory bail application may be filed irrespective of the stage of the investigation or trial. However, the court asked Varadarajan to surrender his passport and be available when called for the investigation.