Scroll.in editors Supriya Sharma and Naresh Fernandes have moved the Allahabad High Court challenging the FIR registered against them seeking a stay on coercive action pursuant to the same.
The FIR was registered in relation to a news article published by Scroll.in highlighting the plight of the villages in Varanasi district, which was adopted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
After the news report was published, an FIR was registered against the two 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 of 1989 were also invoked in the FIR lodged at Ramnagar Police Station in Varanasi District.
The FIR was registered based on a complaint filed by a woman who alleged that she had been quoted incorrectly in the news article and that her condition was mocked on account of her belonging to the Scheduled Caste community.
The petitioners claim that this FIR is “wholly false, motivated, malicious, baseless and untenable” and that no prima facie offence is made out against them, either under the IPC or under the SC/ST Act.
“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.”
Petition filed in Allahabad High Court
It is said that the news piece published by Scroll.in was based on the interviews carried out by Sharma in her professional duty and the report is based on facts that emerged during the course of this journalistic exercise. The petitioners have, in the plea, also undertaken to file a complete audio recording of the interview that has been alleged by the complainant to have been falsified. The plea says,
“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.”
As such, the registration of the FIR against the journalists 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”, it is said.
The inclusion of Section 269 of the IPC which deals with “negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life” shows non-application of mind in registering the FIR, the petition further argues.
“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.”
Petition filed in Allahabad High Court
Challenging the inclusion of Section 501 of the IPC in the FIR, the petitioners state that the Section could have been invoked only after the complainant had made a complaint before the competent court, as is required under the procedure laid down under Section 199 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC). Therefore, invoking this Section in the FIR shows that the police acted in a “motivated and over-zealous” manner.
Having said so, the petitioners also deny the mischief aspect under Section 501 and have submitted before the Court that the report was a fact-based story backed by the interview conducted.
The petition also refutes the provisions of SC/ST Act used to charge the petitioners and says that the article on Scroll.in clearly shows that there is no intentional insult or hurt caused.
Given that there is no prima facie case made out and there is no need or custodial interrogation or recovery to be made from the petitioners, their right to liberty ought not to be curtailed, the plea states. Therefore, they have prayed for a stay on their arrest pursuant to this FIR.
The petitioners have therefore, sought for the FIR against them to be quashed and for directions to the authorities to not take any coercive steps against them.
The petition is drawn by Advocates Vrinda Grover, Swetashwa Agarwal, and Raghav Dwivedi. The petitioners will be represented by Senior Advocate Dinesh Dwivedi before the High Court