'Right to Freedom of Speech': HC Sets Aside LOC, Allows Rana Ayyub To Travel

"This is the first step to justice," journalist Rana Ayyub told The Quint after the Delhi HC passed the order.

4 min read
Hindi Female

"This is the first step to justice," journalist Rana Ayyub told The Quint after the Delhi High Court on Monday, 4 April, allowed her to travel abroad, subject to specific conditions, days after the Enforcement Directorate (ED) barred her from doing so.

The ED had cited an ongoing probe in a money laundering case for stopping her from travelling out of the country.

Justice CD Singh, on Monday, set aside the Look Out Circular (LOC) issued against Ayyub, and pointed out in his order:

"An LOC is a coercive measure to make a person surrender and consequentially interferes with petitioner’s right of personal liberty and free movement."

He also explicitly stated that the impugned LOC was liable to be set aside for "being devoid of merits as well as for infringing the human right of the petitioner to travel abroad and to exercise her freedom of speech and expression."

Ayyub was stopped at Mumbai airport from boarding a flight to London on 29 March, as she was being probed by the ED in connection with an alleged money laundering case. She was flying to London to speak at an event organised by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ).


She is scheduled to attend an international conference in London and a journalism festival in Italy in the coming weeks.

But What Are the Conditions?

The Delhi High Court had allowed Ayyub's writ, but with conditions. Those conditions, as later specified in the court order, were:

  • The petitioner shall intimate her travel dates and detailed itinerary to the Investigation Agency forthwith along with the address of the places that the petitioner shall be visiting

  • The petitioner shall deposit an FDR to the tune of Rs 1 lakh before the Enforcement Directorate in Mumbai

  • The petitioner shall not attempt to tamper with the evidence or influence the witnesses in any manner

  • The petitioner shall return to India on the date specified i.e. 11th April 2022

  • The petitioner shall give the undertaking to appear before the Investigation Agency immediately on her return and on dates that might be fixed by the Investigation Agency for interrogation, if any, after the travel period.

The court had resumed hearing Ayyub's plea on Monday, 4 April.

Justice CD Singh had also said that he was only examining the LOC and whether Ayyub could be allowed to go abroad or not.

"For that, what's the material against the petitioner?" the judge had thereby asked Additional Solicitor General (ASG) SV Raju.

On Friday, the high court had directed the ED – on whose instructions Ayyub was not allowed to leave the country – to file a status report on its case against her by 2:30 pm on Monday.


Today's Hearing


Appearing for Ayyub, Advocate Vrinda Grover broadly made the following four submissions:

  • She lives with her whole family in Bombay

  • Can she run away with frozen money?

  • Ayyub is more than keen to show that there is nothing "hanky panky" in her account, and that she is cooperating

  • Can her fundamental rights be violated because there is an enquiry?

Alleging that there were extraneous conditions at play, Advocate Vrinda Grover said, "There cannot be somebody who is cooperating more than I am. Petitioner is a renowned Journalist. Press is the fourth pillar of democracy."

Ayyub was represented in this case by Advocate Vrinda Grover, along with Soutik Banerjee, Mannat Tipnis, and Devika Tulsiani.


Responding to Grover, the Additional Solicitor General (ASG) continued, "Mere statement isn't enough. See the conduct, documents aren't given despite request."

The court questioned what the yardstick was if the accused was appearing before the agency, but the agency still alleged that she was not cooperating. The Additional Solicitor General responded, saying, "The provisions under PMLA are strict."

Alleging that "crores of rupees have come to her relatives and her in the guise of COVID-19 relief", the ASG also said: "We want her today to sit down with us and explain the entries."

What Happened During the Previous Hearing?

During the hearing on Friday, advocate Vrinda Grover, on behalf of Ayyub, argued that, "I am before you because my fundamental rights to speech and to practice my profession as a journalist is attacked."

She argued that Ayyub had attended the last summons in the case on 25 January, and her statement had been recorded by the ED at the time. She had remained in communication with the ED till 22 March over the filing of her reply, but no further summons had been issued till then.

However, on 29 March, after having gone through immigration for her 2 pm flight, she was detained at the airport and told the ED was going to send her a summons. The summons arrived in her mailbox at 1:46 pm, merely minutes before her flight.

The journalist contended that the whole process was an attempt to silence her because she was critical of the government.


The Case Against Ayyub

The ED's case against Ayyub, registered under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), relates to an FIR registered by the Ghaziabad Police in September 2021, which alleges irregularities in fund collection by Ayyub.

The ED has filed a money laundering case in connection with the predicate offence being examined by the police and the Income Tax department.

The irregularities in question allude to three crowdfunding campaigns initiated by the journalist between April 2020-June 2021, facilitated by the virtual platform Ketto.

Ayyub, however, has rejected all the allegations against her.

Her statement shared via Twitter says, "In my three public campaigns undertaken on Ketto, I had raised a total of Rs 2,69,44,679 (about 26.9 million). I have provided all bills and invoices for the relief work undertaken by me, which is to the tune of Rs 40 lakh."

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