The Gujarat High Court on Tuesday restored a gag order barring news portal The Wire to write further on the “exceptional” increase in Jay Shah’s firm’s turnover, said media reports.
The order was first issued after The Wire published a story in September 2017, which alleged that the turnover of a company owned by BJP President Amit Shah’s son Jay Shah had grown 16,000 times in a year after Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power.
The order, issued in connection with a civil defamation case against the website, stops it from publishing any content “directly or indirectly” related to Jay Shah until the defamation case is disposed of.
Siddharth Vardarajan, the co-founding editor of The Wire, said they will challenge the verdict in the Supreme Court. “Going against several decades of jurisprudence, Gujarat High Court has restored gag order that trial court itself vacated after first granting Jay Amit Shah ex parte injunction against @thewire_in. We will challenge this verdict, which affects media freedom for all, in the Supreme Court,” Vardarajan said on Twitter.
The case pertains to the civil suit filed against the web portal through which Jay Shah has claimed a damage of Rs 100 crore. The Ahmedabad district court had granted an interim injunction against the portal, restraining it from further publishing anything on the same subject. In December 2017, the court lifted the injunction and ruled that barring the use of the words “Narendra Modi becoming prime minister/elected prime minister” in relation to any debate on the original article on Jay Shah, The Wire was free to publish content on his business and public activities.
Jay Shah had moved the High Court in December 2017 against the order of Ahmedabad district court. After the hearing in the case concluded on Jan 19, Justice Paresh Upadhyay reserved the verdict.
The lawyers appearing for The Wire had argued: “We stand by the article. Do we need to do the article threadbare … whether it is defamatory or not I stand by it and to succeed in interim injunction I don’t need to prove it. At this stage, the interim injunction prevents a public discourse because this article was written to agitate people to talk about it but not to create any chaos. The injunction simply prevents it.”
They argued that if the case was limited to a private person, then the comments could not be made but if he or she was connected with a public figure, business related to rise or fall will be commented upon by people.
Jay Shah’s lawyer, senior counsel Nirupam Nanavati, on the other hand, argued that the trial court had prima facie held that dragging Prime Minister in the write-up was not right. He argued: “Connecting my father’s position and Prime Minister so to tell the world that I (Jay) enhanced my business because of these connections can never said to be an honest opinion and the burden of proving that it is not defamatory is on respondents (portal). Assuming that whatever they collected from the record may be true but can you publish in this manner in the name of public interest? The language and the innuendo used don’t say their article is an honest opinion but only to malign me and my father and the Prime Minister. The trial court found that the PM was wrongly involved so the portal was restrained.”
Earlier, on Jan 8, the Gujarat High Court had also rejected the petition of the website The Wire seeking quashing of a criminal defamation case lodged against it by Jay Shah, son of BJP president Amit Shah.
The court held that there is a prima facie case against Wire’s reporter and editors. The court held that “the most disturbing part of the article”, which can be “prima facie termed as defamatory”, is linking the rise in Jay’s firm’s turnover with the election of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister.
Justice JB Pardiwala said: “The most disturbing part of the article, or to put it in other words, the imputation which could be termed as prima facie defamatory is the averment that the turnover of the company owned by the complainant, who happens to be the son of the leader of the Bhartiya Janta Party increased 16,000 times over in the year following the election of Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister and the elevation of his father to the post of the party president.”
The Wire had moved the High Court against the criminal defamation case filed by Jay before a metropolitan court, days after the website put up the article “The Golden Touch of Jay Amit Shah”, alleging that his company’s turnover grew exponentially after the BJP came to power in 2014. The Wire had said its report is based on documentary evidence and hence they cannot be tried for criminal defamation.
Saying that there is a prima facie case against the petitioner, Justice Pardiwala observed, “What is important is the strong innuendo that the complainant has prospered because of the fact that he happens to be the son of a very powerful political leader, and that too, at a point of time when Narendra Modi took over as the Prime Minister of the country.”
The judgment said, “…prima facie, the article tries to portray a picture that an ordinary company, which had a meagre revenue of Rs 50,000/- proceeded to accumulate the revenue of Rs 80,00,00,000/- [Rs 80 crore] in a single year…only because of the political position of the father of the complainant and at a time when Narendra Modi took over as the Prime Minister.”
Justice Pardiwala also raised the question about what the effect of such an article would be in the mind of a common man. He observed that “in a country like India, it does not take a second for the people in general to start thinking that the complainant has prospered only because of his political contacts. People may even infer corrupt practice at the end of the complainant. In such circumstances, the article published by the writ applicants, prima facie, could be termed as defamatory in nature.”
Justice Pardiwala had also refused to grant relief to founding editors of the website since there are “specific and clear allegations in the complaint that they are responsible for the defamatory matter and had the personal knowledge about the contents of the defamatory matter”.
The entire issue is likely to be taken to the Supreme Court by The Wire.