SC Quashes Sedition Case Against Vinod Dua, Says Every Journalist Entitled to Protection

The top court referred to its Kedar Nath Singh judgment, which said allegedly seditious speech and expression may be punished only if the speech is an ‘incitement to violence’ or ‘public disorder'.

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday quashed sedition and other charges that were registered against journalist Vinod Dua by a BJP leader from Himachal Pradesh for making comments critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Central government.

According to LiveLaw, the top court said, “Every journalist is entitled to the protection under the Kedar Nath Singh case (which defined the ambit of offence of sedition under Section 124A IPC).” In Kedar Nath Singh (1962), five judges of the Supreme Court made it clear that “allegedly seditious speech and expression may be punished only if the speech is an ‘incitement’ to ‘violence’, or ‘public disorder'”.

The Supreme Court, however, refused the second prayer made by Vinod Dua seeking the formation of a committee to verify allegations against journalists before an FIR is lodged. He had said that no FIR should be registered against a journalist with experience of over 10 years unless the committee approves it. The court said that this prayer would be an encroachment into the legislative domain, according to LiveLaw.

A bench of Justices U.U. Lalit and Vineet Saran had reserved judgment on October 6, 2020, after hearing arguments for Dua, the Himachal Pradesh government and the complainant in the case.

The FIR against Dua was lodged on the basis of a complaint by BJP leader Shyam at Kumarsain police station in Shimla district on May 6, 2020 and the journalist was asked to join the probe. It invoked charges under various provisions of the Indian Penal Code, including sedition, public nuisance, printing defamatory materials and public mischief.

The complaint alleged that Dua, in his YouTube show, accused Prime Minister Modi of using “deaths and terror attacks” to get votes.

In June last year, the top court had granted protection from arrest to Dua till further orders. However, it had refused to stay the ongoing probe against him. Dua was asked to join the investigation through a video conference to respond to the summons issued by the police.

Besides seeking quashing of the FIR, Dua, in the plea, has sought “exemplary damages” for “harassment”. The plea also said the Supreme Court should give a direction that henceforth, FIRs against mediapersons with at least 10 years’ experience should not be registered “unless cleared by a committee to be constituted by every state government”. This committee will be composed of the chief justice of the high court or a judge designated by her, the leader of the opposition and the home minister.

According to LiveLaw, the plea said the top court has been “emphasizing for distancing the police from the ruling party in the state” but “none of the major political parties which are in power in various states are ready to give up their control over the police”.

“There is a recent trend against the media where state governments which do not find a particular telecast to be in sync with their political ideologies register FIRs against persons of the media primarily to harass them and to intimidate them so that they succumb to the line of the state or else face the music at the hands of the police,” the plea claimed.

Lodging of FIR and coercive steps against Dua amounted to “direct and brazen violation” of his fundamental rights, the plea said.

The case against Dua was registered in Himachal Pradesh merely hours after the Delhi high court had stayed further police action on an FIR registered by the Delhi police. The Delhi police’ case was also registered based on a complaint by a BJP leader.

Last week, the Supreme Court had said in a different case that there is a need to definite the limits of sedition, noting that sections of the Indian Penal Code that deal with sedition require interpretation, particularly in the context of media freedom.

The apex court’s observation came as it stayed coercive action against two Telugu-language news channels accused by the Andhra Pradesh police of sedition for airing the statement of an MP who had rebelled against the ruling YSR Congress Party in the state.

The bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud, L. Nageswara Rao and S. Ravindra Bhat said the sedition FIRs by Andhra Police against channels TV5 News and ABN Andhra Jyoti appeared to be an attempt to “muzzle media freedom.”