R.R. Gopal, Editor of Tamil magazine Nakkeeran , was on Tuesday arrested in Chennai under Section 124 IPC, a provision that deals with “assaulting President/Governor with intent to compel or restrain the exercise of any lawful power” on a complaint from the Raj Bhavan, but was set free by a magistrate in the evening.
The complaint was submitted by T. Sengottaiyan, Deputy Secretary to the Governor, to the Commissioner of Police on October 6, accusing Nakkeeran of publishing defamatory reports. These reports insinuated that the Governor and senior Raj Bhavan officials had links with Nirmala Devi, an assistant professor, who was arrested in April on charges of attempted trafficking of college girls.
Mr. Sengottaiyan sought invocation of Section 124 IPC against Mr. Gopal, 31 employees and three distributors of the magazine, saying publishing three articles — two in April and one in September — amounted to “clearly an expression of intention of inducing or compelling His Excellency the Governor of Tamil Nadu to refrain from exercising his lawful powers as Governor.”
The Zam Bazaar police arrested Mr. Gopal at the Chennai airport minutes before he was to board a flight to Pune in the morning and brought him to the Chindatripet police station. MDMK leader Vaiko arrived outside the station and staged a dharna, following which he was detained.
After a medical check-up at the Kasturba Government Hospital, where DMK president M.K. Stalin met him, Mr. Gopal was produced before S. Gopinathan, XIIIth Metropolitan Magistrate, Egmore.
Noticing N. Ram, Chairman, The Hindu Group’s publishing company, THG Publishing Private Limited, in the court hall, the magistrate invited him to express his views. Mr. Ram said invoking provisions of Section 124 IPC would set a bad precedent.
“I speak as the former Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu and Chairman of the company. We have published many editorials criticising or praising Governors in the past. Never did any Governor or his office think of invoking Section 124...this is quite shocking and, if allowed, it will set a very bad precedent not only for Tamil Nadu but for all of India,” Mr. Ram said.
He, along with CPI State Secretary Mutharasan, and Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi leader Thol Thirumavalavan, had gone to the court hall in solidarity with Mr. Gopal.
When the magistrate showed a copy of Nakkeeran and asked if he would print such a report, Mr. Ram, who made it clear that he was not a lawyer, said that he practised a different kind of journalism.
“I would not do it, but that doesn’t merit stringent draconian action under the law. Even opinions that you don’t agree with are covered by Constitutional provisions...it is certainly not an offence under 124 of IPC. I know several magazines which publish provocative stories that have protection under Article 19(1) (a). Remanding (Mr. Gopal) will be a very harsh and dangerous action...it will also drag the institution of the Governor into an unnecessary and even an ugly controversy which should be avoided,” he argued.
The court was adjourned for about an hour, and arguments re-commenced, when the magistrate again called Mr. Ram to clarify certain points.
In his order, the magistrate observed: “Mr. N. Ram, the Chairman, [The] Hindu Publications, has represented that freedom of press will be jeopardised” and the fourth pillar of democracy destroyed.
“This court also feels that the freedom of press must be safeguarded and if remand is done on the available papers, no one will be free. It is pertinent to mention that in the arrest intimation memo no one police station has been mentioned. Even jurisdiction [of] this case before this court [is] also doubtful,” Mr. Gopinath said.
He rejected the prosecution’s request for remanding Mr. Gopal saying “no perfect material” was produced. The magistrate set him free on an own bail bond for ₹10,000 on the condition that he shall appear for interrogation and court purposes when required.
However, sources in the Chennai Police said investigators would pursue the case against Mr. Gopal.
(With inputs from T. Ramakrishnan)