The Kerala High Court on Wednesday directed the state police to ensure effective protection for the units of Malayalam news channel Asianet News, in case the protests against the channel turned violent.
The order was passed by the Single-Judge Bench of Justice N. Nagaresh after the channel sought police protection on the grounds that a group of nearly 30 activists of the Students Federation of India (SFI), the students wing of the ruling party, had violently and forcefully trespassed into its office at Kochi and intimidated the staff on March 3 this year.
The Government Pleader informed the High Court today that eight of the accused involved in the case have already been arrested and the investigation was underway.
The Bench observed that since the incident had attained political colours and there were protests against the petitioner’s unit, it was likely that there would be further protests against the petitioner, which may turn violent. The respondents, in that case, were bound to give effective protection to the four units of the petitioner at Kochi, Trivandrum, Calicut, and Kannur, it said.
Disposing of the writ petition, the High Court directed the respondents 1-5 that if the petitioner sought police assistance on apprehension of any violence from protestors, sufficient police personnel should be deployed to maintain law and order, apart from keeping off violence.
The Government Pleader apprised the High Court that the channel was facing investigation for a case under the POCSO Act in relation to an alleged fake interview of a minor girl.
Asianet has been accused of airing a staged interview in November, 2022, in which a minor girl was made to say that she was a victim of drug abuse and sexual exploitation.
The Court asked the Counsel for the petitioner whether there had been any further threats after the incident on March 3, 2023. The Counsel replied that there were telephonic and social media threats subsequent to the incident.
The channel had submitted in the writ petition that in July 2022, it had published an interview with a victim of drug abuse, on the basis of reliable information about a POCSO charge sheet. It further said that a follow up story was also published in November, 2022 using file shots without disclosing the identity of the victim.
As per the petition, police had registered an FIR against the Executive Editor of Asianet and three others on the basis of a complaint filed by the ruling party MLA PV Anwar under Sections 120B, 465, and 34 of IPC read with Sections 21 and 19 of the POCSO Act. Based on the FIR, the State Police conducted a raid at the channel’s Kozhikode office on March 5, it added.
Asianet was represented by Advocates Nandagopal Nambiar, Victor George V.M., Preeja P. Vijayan, Smitha Ezhupunna and Chitra Johnson.
(Case title: Asianet News vs The State Police Chief & Ors)