New Delhi: News portal Scroll.in editors Supriya Sharma and Naresh Fernandes have filed a petition in the Allahabad high court to quash an FIR registered against them over a news report depicting poor living conditions at Varanasi’s Domari village which has been ‘adopted‘ by Prime Minister Narendra Modi under the Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana.
“The FIR is wholly false, motivated, malicious and baseless. It is abuse of the process of law, meant to intimidate and harass independent journalists and stifle freedom of press from reporting critical stories stating the unvarnished truth and grim reality about the lives of vulnerable groups,” they have claimed in their petition.
Based on a complaint filed by the woman quoted by Sharma in her report, the UP police had registered the FIR at Ramnagar Police Station in Varanasi District under Sections 269 (negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life) and 501 (printing or engraving matter known to be defamatory) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Sections 3(1)(r) and 3(1)(s) of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act were also slapped.
The woman alleged that the news report quoted her incorrectly and mocked her condition as she belonged to the Scheduled Caste community.
“The registration of the said FIR amounts to an abuse of the process of law, intended to intimidate, silence and punish independent journalism; and any coercive action against the Petitioners would amount to a grave miscarriage of justice,” reads the petition.
The petition further said that Sharma had a recorded audio of the interview with the woman as part of standard journalistic practice.
“That the Petitioner No. 1 has followed standard journalistic practice in audio recording the interview of Ms. Mala and reporting the news story based on what Ms. Mala had stated in the interview. All reporting about Ms. Mala in the concerned news article has been done bonafide and is based on the primary account given by Ms. Mala herself,” said the plea.
The petition also challenged the use of section 269 (negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life) of the IPC, calling it “non-application of mind” in registering the FIR.
“The inclusion of this criminal offence in the FIR betrays the cavalier, malicious and arbitrary manner in which the Respondents have acted against the Petitioners,” stated the petition.
It added that section 501 of the IPC was irregularly invoked in the FIR. “It could have been invoked if the complainant had made a complaint before the competent court, as per the procedure laid down under Section 199 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC).”
Refuting the charges under the SC/ST Act, the petitioners said that there is no intentional insult or hurt caused to the community.
Stating that no prima facie case is made out against them, they prayed in the petition a stay on their arrest.