Senior journalist Vinod Dua, who has been accused of sedition, told the Supreme Court on Friday that criticism of the government is not in itself seditious unless it instigates violence, Live Law reported. “Moreover, If I criticise the prime minister, that does not come under criticism of the government” he said.
A bench of Justices UU Lalit and Vineet Saran was hearing Dua’s plea to quash the case registered against him by a Bharatiya Janata Party leader in Himachal Pradesh. The journalist has been accused of spreading rumours and misinformation about the communal violence in Delhi in February through his YouTube show.
Advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for Bhushan, referred to the Supreme Court’s Kedar Nath judgement of 1962 and said that as a citizen Dua had the right to say or write whatever he likes about the government, by way of criticism or comment. Singh added that the remarks should not “incite people to violence against the government established by law or with the intention of creating public disorder”.
Singh referred to the portion of the judgement which states that “the government established by law has to be distinguished from the persons engaged in carrying on the administration”, according to Bar and Bench. “Our democracy in true sense is in threat if our press is not allowed to function freely,” he added.
The advocate further argued that Dua cannot be held guilty of the offences he has been charged for under Section 153A or under Section 505(2) of the Indian Penal Code as the journalist “has not done anything against any religious, racial or linguistic or regional group or community”.
Section 505 relates to making statements conducing to public mischief, and 505(2) pertains to statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes.
Singh referred to the the show’s transcript and alleged that the FIR against Dua has “completely distorted” what was said in the show. “On both counts, it is neither sedition, nor statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill will,” he said.
The bench adjourned the case to September 2.
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 next day, the court extended his protection till July 15.
“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 had 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.