New Delhi: If a journalist, who is an important brick in the Fourth Pillar of democracy, decides to act with the intention to destabilise and negatively impact the sustainability and survival of democracy, that would be a darkest day in the Free Press Movement, observed a Delhi court while dismissing the bail plea of freelance journalist Rajeev Sharma arrested in an espionage case.
The court said if released on bail, Sharma arrested under the Official Secrets Act, may attempt to hamper the investigation.
The nature of material collected against the accused, which includes information/documents having threat to national security and foreign relations, the likelihood of any attempt of such tempering or influencing the witnesses cannot be ruled out, it said.
Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Pawan Singh Rajawat also denied the permission to his lawyer to publish the contents of the FIR, saying it is probably aimed at starting a media trial for scuttling the investigation and influence the public opinion on half facts as the case diary contains much more information which cannot be disclosed at this stage.
The court rejected his plea that he should be granted bail as he was an accredited Journalist from Press Information Bureau and had worked with various news agencies of India and abroad.
“An independent press is stated to be the Fourth Pillar of democracy and journalist is an important brick in the said pillar of democracy. The foundation of democracy cannot be shaken if all the pillars of democracy including the Press works towards stability and growth.
“However, if a journalist who is an important brick in the Fourth Pillar of democracy decides to act with the intention to destabilise and negatively impact the sustainability and survival of democracy, that would be a darkest day in the Free Press Movement,” the judge said in the order passed on Monday.
He added, if accused is released on bail at this stage, he may attempt to hamper the investigation.
The court noted that the case was registered on the basis of secret input received from Indian intelligence agencies about links of Sharma with foreign intelligence officers and receiving funds from foreign handlers for conveying sensitive information (having bearing on National Security and Foreign Relations).
Furthermore, the involvement of foreign agencies at whose behest Sharma was passing out the sensitive information is yet to be investigated and if released, he may indulge in thwarting the course of investigation, the court observed.
While seeking bail, the counsel for the accused told the court that the accused was about 61 years and suffering from various ailments and, therefore, was at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 infection.
The court, however, said that the ailments with which accused was suffering were not such which by themselves would cause any danger to his life if he denied bail.
Besides, the jail administration has made arrangements to deal with the infection, it noted.
The Delhi Police Special Cell had said that Sharma, arrested on September 14, was allegedly “found to be in possession of some defence-related classified documents”.
It said that the other two accused – a Chinese woman and a Nepalese national – arrested in the case were allegedly paying Sharma large amounts of money routed through shell companies.