Sunday, February 5, 2023

Allahabad HC Grants Bail To Siddharth Varadrajan Founding-Editor of “The Wire”

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The Allahabad High Court on Friday granted anticipatory bail to Siddharth Varadrajan who is founding-editor of “The Wire” who is accused of making defamatory statements against UP CM Adityanath and tried to create public disharmony.

The accused was charged under Sections 66D & 67 of Information Technology Act 2000, Sections 188 & 505(2) of IPC, Section 54 of Disaster Management Act 2005 and Section 3 of Epidemic Diseases Act 1897, Police Station Kotwali Ayodhya, District Ayodhya.

Brief facts of the case are that the applicant is editor of online news portal “The Wire”. As per the prosecution story, the complainant had lodged the FIR on 01.04.2020 in the aforementioned sections alleging therein that the applicant had made a tweet on website which was allegedly defamatory towards the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. The said FIR was lodged on the report published by “The Wire” on 31.03.2020 titled as “Covid-19 Cases Spike in Nizzamuddin Nehru Stadium in Delhi to Become Quarantine Centre”, which was also tweeted by the applicant on 31.03.2020 and 01.04.2020. The error in the said report was corrected as soon it became known of the applicant and the incorrect version was deleted. FIR was registered on 01.04.2020.

Mr. I.B. Singh, Senior Advocate appearing for the applicant said that the said FIR is nothing but an attempt to muzzle free speech and it is also submitted that the report in the said Magzine and Tweeter handle by the applicant is based on statements of facts which was also covered by various other news publications such as Deccan Herald, The Print, NDTV and Economic Times. The said report has never been denied by the Government of U.P.

He also said that the FIR is frivolous, malicious and motivated in nature. Furthermore, one small error in the report wherein the statement was wrongly attributed to the Chief Minister of U.P. was corrected as soon it became known and even before the registration of the FIR. He further said that any factual inaccuracies are not subject to any criminal action in law, even more so the offences with which the applicant has been charged.

Mr. V.K. Shahi, Additional Advocate General said that the said article and the tweet were nothing but to create a confusion amongst the public at large in order to disturb the communal harmony by tweeting else on the day Tabligi Jamat event was held by Muslim Community and various statements linked with Chief Minister were purposely made with intention to create disharmony amongst the two communities.

He also said that that because of this article and tweet, there were several unfortunate communal incidents which destroyed the public peace, and cases were registered upon which actions were taken immediately by the vigilant activities and activeness of the district police.

He also took serious objection that there is every likelihood that the accused-applicant will abscond and intimidate the witnesses and he may evade trial too. The accused- applicant is holding passport of U.S.A., and is an American citizen, and is residing in India since 1995. Therefore, the applicant can flee away from the country.

Acting upon the plea, the single judge of Lucknow bench of High Court Justice Chandra Dhari Singh, observed that the object of the bail is to secure the attendance of the accused at the trial. The accused person who enjoys freedom is in a much better position to look after his case and to properly defend himself in, the trial than if he is in custody. In other words, as the Apex court holds, a presumed innocent person must have his freedom in the form of bail to enable him to establish his innocence at the trial.

The High Court also did not found any merit in the argument advanced by Additional Advocate General and thus allowed the anticipatory bail application thereby directing that in event of arrest the applicant Siddharth Varadarajan, be released on bail on his executing a personal bond to the tune of Rs.2,00,000/- (Rupees Two Lakh) with two sureties each in the like amount to the satisfaction of the learned trial Court concerned.

-India Legal Bureau

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