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Allahabad High Court quashes FIR against The Wire editor, reporter

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The Allahabad High Court has quashed an FIR registered against Siddharth Varadarajan, editor of The Wire, and reporter Ismat Ara for publishing news on the death of a youth during the farmers’ agitation in New Delhi.

The Division Bench of Justice Ashwani Kumar Mishra and Justice Rajnish Kumar passed this order while hearing a petition filed by Siddharth Varadarajan And Another.

The petition has been filed for quashing the FIR dated 31.01.2021 in Case under Section 153-B and 505 (2) of Indian Penal Code, registered at Police Station Civil Lines, District Rampur along with consequential reliefs.

The petitioner no1 (Siddharth Varadarajan) is the founding editor of online news publication The Wire and the petitioner no 2 (Ismat Ara) is a reporter of the online news publication. The farmers were protesting against three farm laws enacted in 2020. As a mark of protest they marched in Delhi on 26.01.2021 and in an incident near ITO, New Delhi, a young man named Navreet Singh Dibdiba hailing from district Rampur, UP suffered serious injuries and succumbed to death. The State version is that death was caused due to an accident involving his tractor whereas some of the eye witnesses and the victims primarily claimed that it was due to bullet injury. The Wire covered this incident in its report dated 30.01.2021 titled “Autopsy Doctor Told Me He’d Seen the Bullet Injury but Can Do Nothing as His Hands are Tied” authored by the petitioner no 2 and shared it on Twitter handle at 10.08 am.

A clarificatory statement was issued by the three doctors who carried out the postmortem denying that they had spoken to the media or any other person or they made any such statement. The said news was also published by the petitioner no1 on 30.01.2021 at 04:46 PM after it was issued by Rampur Police at 4.39 P.M.

The FIR was lodged on 31.01.2021 at 00.59 bearing FIR under Sections 153-B and 505 (2) IPC against the petitioner no 1 on the basis of a complaint by one Sanju Turaiha / respondent no 3 alleging that the petitioner no 1 by way of the aforementioned tweet, sought to provocate the masses, spread riot, tarnish the image of medical officers by proving wrong to the panel of Medical Officers and disturb law and order and though the doctors who performed the postmortem denied that they have told the victim’s family that the cause of the death was bullet injuries but the petitioner no 1 did not delete the tweet.

The petitioners approached the Supreme Court challenging the three FIRs. The Supreme Court by means of the order dated 08.09.2021 permitted the petition to be withdrawn by the petitioner no 2 and granted protection from any coercive action for a period of two months. Consequently, the writ petition has been filed.

The counsel for the petitioners submitted that the petitioners have wrongly and falsely been implicated in the case. The allegations made in the FIR does not disclose the commissioning of any offence under Section 153-B and 505 (2) IPC. The petitioners had only published the statement of the parents of the deceased and the contradictions of the doctors was also published / uploaded at the earliest after its release. Therefore, even if the same was not deleted it does not constitute any offence. There was no threat of riots and in fact there was no violence or riot on account of the alleged publication.

She had further submitted that the fair criticism is permissible under law. She had also submitted that the grandfather of the deceased has moved the Delhi High Court praying for a Court monitored probe into the death of his grandson, where the High Court has issued the notices and the Delhi High Court is monitoring the investigation. Therefore the FIR is nothing but an abuse of process of law and curtailment of the right to freedom of speech. Therefore, the impugned FIR is not sustainable in the eyes of law and liable to be quashed.

The AGA opposed the submissions of the counsel for the petitioners. He submitted that the FIR has rightly been lodged in accordance with law as despite the contradictions of the doctors in regard to the statement published by the petitioners, the news item was not deleted. The allegations levelled in the FIR disclose the commissioning of offence under Section 153-B and 505 (2) IPC. Therefore the FIR can not be quashed and the writ petition is liable to be dismissed.

The Court held,

“For constituting an offence against a person under Section 153-B IPC there should be words either spoken or written or signs or visible representations by a person on account of which any class of persons can not by reason of their being members of any religious, racial, language or regional group or caste or community, bear true faith and allegiance to the constitution of India or uphold the sovereignty and integrity of India or on account of various factors mentioned therein be denied or deprived of their rights as citizens of India or such assertion, counsel, plea or appeal causes or likely to cause disharmony or feelings of enmity or hatred or ill will between such members and other persons.

Similarly for constituting an offence under Section 505 (2) IPC, it refers to a person making, publishing or circulating any statement or report containing rumour or alarming news. Thereafter, it refers to the intent of the person which should be to create or promote and then refers to the harm-based element, that is, likely to create or promote on the ground of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, cast, etc., feeling of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different religions, racial language, religious groups or castes or communities, etc. Unless the aforesaid ingredients are fulfilled the offences under sections 153-B and 505 (2) can not be made out.

Advertising to the facts of the case, the FIR was lodged alleging therein that the petitioners by publication of the alleged news and the aforesaid tweet sought to provocate the masses, spread riot, tarnish the image of medical officers by proving wrong to the panel of Medical Officers and disturb law and order and though the doctors who performed the postmortem denied that they have told the victim’s family that the cause of the death was bullet injuries but the petitioner no1 did not delete the tweet, the Court further noted.

“In perusal of the publication made by the petitioners indicate that it mentions the fact of incident, thereafter the statement of the family members regarding incident and alleged information given by the doctors to him, denial of the UP Police and the fact as to what happened that day. This publication was made on 30.01.2021 at 10.08 A.M and on the very same day a clarification of the three doctors was issued by Rampur Police at 04:39 PM, immediately thereafter at 04:46 PM, the same was also published by the petitioners. The aforesaid news items does not disclose that any opinion was expressed by the petitioners with consequences thereof, therefore this Court does not find any opinion or assertion on the part of the petitioners which may have the effect of provoking or inciting the people. Nothing was also brought before this court to indicate that there was any disturbance or riot which may have any bearing on public disorder on account of the publication of news/ tweets of the petitioners.

In view of above the court is of the view that since the allegations made in the FIR does not disclose the commissioning of offences under Sections 153-B and 505 (2) IPC, therefore, it is not sustainable in the eyes of law and is liable to be quashed. The FIR is accordingly quashed,” the Court observed while allowing the writ petition.

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