The Supreme Court on Friday, 24 April, granted three weeks of interim protection from arrest to the editor-in-chief of Republic TV, Arnab Goswami. According to the ruling, no coercive action can be taken against Goswami for three weeks, during which time he can approach the lower courts for anticipatory bail.
Justices DY Chandrachud and MR Shah of the apex court passed the order in connection with a plea filed by Goswami seeking a stay on the numerous FIRs against him alleging he incited communal hatred in a show about the Palghar lynching case.
At least 16 complaints had been filed against Arnab Goswami in the states of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, Rajasthan and Chhatisgarh.
All the accusations against Goswami will now be investigated through one FIR in Maharashtra, after the judges stayed the proceedings in the other FIRs till further notice, given they all dealt with the same cause of action.
The lone FIR which continues was originally filed in Nagpur, but has been transferred by the apex court to Mumbai. In the meantime, the Mumbai police has been ordered to ensure his safety.
Goswami is facing the ire of the Congress after his verbal attack on Sonia Gandhi, questioning her "silence" over the Palghar mob lynching incident, in his programme on the Republic Bharat news channel.
“No Religious Angle,” Argues Arnab’s Counsel
Senior advocate and former Attorney General of India Mukul Rohatgi, who represented Arnab Goswami in the matter, stated that most of the states where FIRs were lodged are governed by the Congress. He further argued that a case of defamation (the FIRs include complaints of criminal defamation as well) could be filed only by the person aggrieved and not by someone else, reported Bar and Bench.
“When you have a public debate, there are bound to be have provocative questions! If sadhus have been killed and there is a turmoil in Hindu community, then why are you not raising any questions? This is the primary nature of the dispute.”Advocate Mukul Rohatgi’s argument as reported by Live Law
Rohatgi argued that ‘there is no religious angle’ to the debate which had been held by the editor-in-chief of Republic TV. He further added that there was a ‘murderous attack’ on freedom of speech while narrating the incident of an alleged attack on Goswami and his wife on the night of 22 April.
Senior advocate Kabil Sibal, who represented the State of Maharashtra in the matter argued that Goswami was trying to ignite communal violence and cited statements made in the show.
“How can an Article 32 petition lie on “fake freedom of speech”. You are trying to ignite communal violence here by putting Hindus against minority.”Senior advocate Kapil Sibal’s argument as reported by Live Law
Sibal argued strongly against Goswami’s plea to quash the FIRs filed against him, saying the investigation had to take its course.
Senior advocate Manish Singhvi, representing the State of Rajasthan, pointed out that the FIRs clearly set out a prima facie case under Sections 153A and 153B of the IPC, dealing with incitement of communal hatred and violence, and that on this basis the investigations were required.
Singhvi and Sibal, along with Vivek Tankha for the State of Chhattisgarh, accepted that the cases could be combined into one, even though, as they pointed out, other public persons including former Congress president Rahul Gandhi have faced FIRs across the country. The judges were of the opinion that it would not be fair to make Goswami face proceedings for the same matter in different parts of the country, and so stayed the FIRs outside Maharashtra.