Defamation case: Supreme Court grants relief to journalist Arnab Goswami

Arnab Goswami.  

The Supreme Court on Friday granted journalist Arnab Goswami three weeks’ protection from any “coercive action” against him by police in a hate case.

Also read: 3 lynched in Palghar

A Bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, which heard the case through videoconferencing, said Mr. Goswami can use the time to apply for anticipatory bail.

The court also allowed the case registered in Nagpur to be shifted to Mumbai, where investigation would continue.

Also read: Withdraw case against The Hindu journalist: Editors Guild of India

The Bench stayed further action on other FIRs registered against him in States, including Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Punjab, Telangana and Jammu and Kashmir.

Mr. Goswami moved the Supreme Court late on Thursday night. It had within the next couple of hours listed the the plea for quashing the FIRs before Justice Chandrachud’s Bench. The court is convening only to hear “extremely urgent” cases during the lockdown.

Also read: Journalists condemn FIR against Siddharth Varadarajan

In a hearing, which went on for an hour, Mr. Goswami, represented by senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, justified the “extremely urgent circumstances” as several FIRs were registered against him by Congress party members in States ruled by the party or their political allies. Mr. Rohatgi argued that the FIRs were filed by Congress members in retaliation to his TV shows on Republic TV on April 16 and R. Bharat on April 21.

Mr. Goswami said he had only “provocatively” questioned the comments made by “a member of the Congress in relation to India's COVID-19 testing measures and the unfortunate lynching of three individuals [including two priests] in Palghar on April 16, 2020”.

He said he had “reasonable and tangible grounds to believe that other FIRs will also be registered at the behest of the Indian National Congress members in gross violation of his fundamental rights”. The court said no action would be taken on future complaints in this regard.

Mr. Rohatgi argued that his client had only asked his questions to the “Congress chief” in public interest. He had further debated the role of the police as a protective force. Mr. Goswami also sought police protection, saying he was attacked by two men. The court has asked the Mumbai Police to take steps to protect him.

Mr. Goswami said the FIRs and attacks on him were a blow to free speech and free Press.

Sibal’s argument

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, for the Maharashtra government, countered that comments igniting communal violence cannot be protected as free speech. He said nothing prevented Congress members from filing complaints. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi is appearing in defamation cases filed by BJP members in several States. FIRs could be filed against anyone. The police should be given a free hand to investigate.

Senior advocate Vivek Tankha, for Chhattisgarh, agreed with Mr. Sibal and contended that the atmosphere cannot be vitiated at the time of a national lockdown.

At one point, Justice Chandrachud asked why Mr. Goswami had not asked for clubbing of the cases as they stem from the same cause.

In his rebuttal, Mr. Rohatgi referred to the petition to argue that his client was “strongly opposed to any propagation of any communalisation by various other political parties for their own vested interests”.

He said it was “inconceivable that the broadcast aired on April 21 in relation to the Palghar incident could have incited any communal tension”.

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Printable version | Sep 25, 2021 12:55:02 AM |

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