'Absurd' Allegation: Calcutta HC Quashes Pandemic-Linked FIR Against Andaman Journalist

Zubair Ahmed had questioned local authorities on their COVID-19 norms and was one of dozens of journalists across the country being prosecuted for their coverage of the government's handling of the pandemic.

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New Delhi: The Calcutta high court has quashed a first information report (FIR) lodged against a freelance journalist in Port Blair who had tweeted last year a question on the bizarre quarantine policy being followed by the local authorities.

The police had accused Zubair Ahmed of spreading false information with intent to obstruct the administration’s efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19 in the islands.

The Calcutta high court observed while disposing of the FIR:

“This court is of the view that allowing the criminal proceeding in terms of the FIR registered against the petitioner would amount to sheer abuse of process of law and misuse of power of the court as the allegation in the FIR appears to be absurd and no prudent person can ever reach a just conclusion that there is sufficient ground for proceeding against the

The reporter sought quashing of the FIR registered against him on the ground that his tweet did not deserve the case the police registered. His petition further said, “There is no ingredient of sections 188, 269, 270, 505(1)(b) of the Indian Penal Code which can attract the offence alleged in the FIR.”

On April 26, 2020, the Andaman Chronicle, an established local newspaper, carried a news item with the headline, ‘#AndamanFightsCOVID19: Entire Family Put on Home Quarantine After One Calls Up a Relative in Bambooflat’:

“The incident took place yesterday when Shri K.A. Rehman called up his relative who had tested corona positive, over phone. The intention was to enquire about the wellbeing of the victim, a resident of Bambooflat. It was hours after the call was made, the entire family was put on home quarantine by the authorities. The four members include Shri K.A. Rehman (70 years), Smti Rehana Rehman (60 years), Shri K. Abdul Rasheed (32 years) and Smti Saira Banu (29 years). The family is now confused whether calling up their relative was a crime committed or is it that the concerned authorities in Andaman are over concerned about their safety.”

Also read: When a Government Is Hostile to the Press

Following up on this, Ahmed, a reporter based in the islands, posted a question on April 27 for the Andamans administration, whom he tagged, in which he asked why families who merely spoke to COVID-19 patients on the phone were being forced to quarantine:

The police had said the claim Ahmed made was not true; however, no explanation was given for why he was arrested for asking a question.

In 2020, at least 55 journalists across India were arrested, booked or threatened for their coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic and the official response to it.