Court rejects Delhi Police plea against order to release journalists’ electronic devices

If the press is not allowed to function and operate independently, it would cause serious injury to the foundations of our democracy, says Additional Sessions Judge Pawan Singh Rajawat

Published - October 20, 2023 03:20 am IST - New Delhi

A scene at Tis Hazari court, in New Delhi.

A scene at Tis Hazari court, in New Delhi. | Photo Credit: Sushil Kumar Verma

A Delhi court on Wednesday dismissed the plea filed by the Delhi Police against the orders of a magisterial court which had directed them to release the electronic devices seized from the editors and journalists of news portal, The Wire.

Additional Sessions Judge Pawan Singh Rajawat of the Tis Hazari Courts noted that the investigating agency, by continuous seizure of electronic devices of the respondents, is not only causing undue hardship to them, but impinges upon their fundamental right of freedom of profession and speech.

“.... as admittedly the respondents are working for news portal The Wire which is engaged in disseminating news and information and the electronic devices were being used for their work. The Press is considered the Fourth Pillar of our great Democracy and if it is not allowed to function and operate independently, it would cause serious injury to the foundations of our Democracy,” the court said.

Justice Rajawat also noted that the magistrate has not terminated the proceedings, and that the order under challenge does not “decide any right” but only deals with the interim custody of the devices till conclusion of investigation or disposal of the case.

The police, in October 2022, had seized the electronic devices of Siddharth Varadarajan, the founding editor of The Wire along with devices of his colleagues M.K. Venu, Sidharth Bhatia, Jahnavi Sen and Mithun Kidambi.

The action came after an FIR was lodged against the news portal on the complaint of BJP IT Cell chief Amit Malviya who had alleged that The Wire’s stories claiming he could influence content on platforms of Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, was incorrect and defamatory.

The stories were later retracted by The Wire and the news portal has also lodged a complaint against its former consultant Devesh Kumar who they alleged had supplied fake information to them with the aim of damaging their reputation.

In September 2023, the magistrate ordered the release of the devices, prompting the Delhi Police to challenge the order before the sessions court.

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