The Supreme Court on Tuesday extended the interim protection granted to journalist Vinod Dua till July 15 in a sedition case filed by a Bharatiya Janata Party leader in Himachal Pradesh, PTI reported. Dua has been accused of spreading rumours and misinformation about the communal violence in Delhi in February through his YouTube show.
A three-judge bench led by Justice UU Lalit restrained the Himachal Pradesh Police from arresting Dua in the case and will hear the journalist’s petition next week. The top court also pulled up the police for failing to file the status report in the case and directed them to submit it in a sealed cover by July 13, Live Law reported.
“If we are satisfied that contention raised by petitioner is correct, we will quash the FIR straight away”, the court observed. The judges also said Dua is not required to answer the supplementary questionnaire sent by the police.
Advocate Vikas Singh, representing Dua, told the court that his client was being harassed for exercising his constitutional right of freedom of speech. He added that Dua was doing “responsible journalism” for 45 years.
Singh also cited the recent cases where the Supreme Court had granted protection to journalists and stayed first information reports filed against them, referring to Amish Devgan and OpIndia editors.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta objected to these arguments, and said the cases and their facts were very different. The bench said the investigation in the case should move forward in a streamlined manner and Dua cannot be made to answer “fire-off” questions. The solicitor general said the phrase “fire-off” can have adverse consequences. Following this, the top court agreed to withdraw the expression.
Dua had approached the Supreme Court after the Himachal Pradesh Police appeared at his residence on June 12 and ordered him to be present at the remote Kumarsain Police Station – at least a 20-hour drive from Delhi – the very next day at 10 am.
The top court had urgently convened a virtual hearing on June 14 and granted him protection from arrest till July 6. The court had refused repeated pleas to stay the investigation.
“There is a recent trend against the media where state governments who do not find a particular telecast to be in sync with their political ideologies register FIRs against persons of the media primarily to harass them and to intimidate them so that they succumb to the line of the state or else face the music at the hands of the police,” Dua said in his petition.
The police action against Dua was widely criticised by journalists. The Editors Guild of India had called it a brazen attack on free speech. The Indian Journalists’ Union said that the FIRs against Dua were an attempt to intimidate and stifle the media.