Mahua Moitra – Zee News Defamation Cases: What Happens Next?

Here’s where both Moitra’s criminal defamation case and Zee’s counter case are at in the courts.

Published
Law
5 min read
TMC MP Mahua Moitra has filed a criminal defamation case against Sudhir Chaudhary for alleging that her speech on the ‘Seven Signs of Fascism’ on 25 June was plagiarised.
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Snapshot

A week after the Delhi High Court set aside a stay on TMC MP Mahua Moitra’s criminal defamation case against Zee News’ Sudhir Chaudhary, a Delhi magistrate’s court on Friday, 25 October, set a new date for its summons to Moitra in the criminal defamation case filed by Zee against her.

Moitra will need to appear before the court on 22 November to make a statement to Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Samar Vishal, who had previously held that there are sufficient grounds to proceed with Zee’s ‘counter-case’.

Given there are two cases going on, it is understandable that there is some amount of confusion over what exactly is happening in the case, and what effect they may have on each other. Here’s what we know about the row and what happens next.

Mahua Moitra – Zee News Defamation Cases: What Happens Next?

  1. 1. THAT Fascism Speech in Parliament

    It all began with Moitra’s maiden speech in Parliament soon after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. On 25 June, Moitra, a first-time parliamentarian, gave a fiery speech in the Lok Sabha, drawing attention to seven indicators that she said denoted “a danger of fascism rising in India”.

    The indicators included disdain for human rights, media control, obsession with national security, the intertwining of religion and government, castigation of intellectuals and the Arts, and the erosion of independence in the electoral system.

    Moitra referred to a poster which was once sold in the Holocaust Museum in the US, which includes these indicators as part of a list of 14 early warning signs of fascism.

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  2. 2. Zee Falsely Claims Speech is Plagiarised

    A week after her speech, Zee News Editor-in-Chief Sudhir Chaudhary claimed that Moitra had ‘copy-pasted’ her speech from an article by Martin Longman in the Washington Monthly about US President Donald Trump, and posted a copy of the article online.

    Translated, Chaudhary’s tweet says:

    “This is the article of the American website from which Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra stole/plagiarised to use in her speech in the Lok Sabha. She has lifted the words directly from the article and said them. The honour of a Parliament is in danger.”

    The copy of the article posted online by Chaudhary itself indicates that Longman picked his 12 early warning signs of fascism from the Holocaust Museum poster, and that these were not his own. Nevertheless, Chaudhary’s segment on Zee where he made this claim, and his tweet, gained a significant deal of traction.

    Martin Longman himself eventually tweeted and clarify that Moitra was being “falsely accused of plagiarising me.” He also had some choice words for the right-wing in all countries.

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  3. 3. Mahua Moitra's Criminal Defamation Complaint Against Sudhir Chaudhary

    On 15 July, Moitra decided to file a criminal defamation complaint against Sunil Chaudhary for his claim that her speech was plagiarised. She also moved a breach of privilege motion against him in Parliament. Following procedure, Metropolitan Magistrate Preeti Parewa began looking into the complaint.

    Chaudhary filed an application under Section 340 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, claiming that Moitra had committed perjury in her complaint by allegedly concealing some relevant facts.

    He then approached the the additional sessions court in Delhi and asked for a stay on the proceedings taking place before the magistrate’s court over Moitra’s criminal defamation complaint, on the basis that his arguments about perjury had not been heard by the magistrate.

    The additional sessions judge granted this stay on 25 September.

    On 17 October, Justice Brijesh Sethi of the Delhi High Court set aside the stay order, after Moitra had argued it was wrong for the sessions court to intervene in the proceedings when it was at a pre-summoning stage.

    Following this, the proceedings before the magistrate regarding Moitra’ criminal defamation complaint will now resume. On 4 November, the magistrate will decide whether to issue process and summon Sudhir Chaudhary.

    What is the pre-summons stage in a criminal defamation case? And why is it relevant?

    Criminal defamation complaints cannot be made to the police and instead have to be made to a magistrate, who can then order an investigation and for the case to begin. Section 199 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) also makes it clear that the complaint has to be by a person aggrieved by the alleged offence.

    In such cases, the court has to examine the complaint made by the aggrieved person, which needs to contain details of how the offence of criminal defamation is made out (essentially lowering of their reputation) and a list of witnesses who can testify towards this.

    After this, the complainant and their witnesses are to be examined on oath by the magistrate, according to Section 200 of the CrPC. The magistrate can also order an investigation/inquiry into the matter by the police, to see if there are sufficient grounds for proceeding with the case (Section 202, CrPC). The accused is not asked for their statement at this time.

    If, after considering the statements of the complainant and the witnesses and the results of any investigation/inquiry, the judge does not think there are sufficient grounds for proceeding, then they are to dismiss the case (Section 203, CrPC). Brief reasons for this are to be recorded in writing.

    It is only if the magistrate feels that there are sufficient grounds to proceed in the case, that they can then summon the accused and issue process in the case (Section 204, CrPC). Personal appearance of the accused can be dispensed with at the magistrate’s discretion, in which case the accused’s lawyer’s presence is sufficient.

    It is only after this that the main trial can begin, hence the differentiation between the pre-summoning and post-summoning stages in criminal defamation cases.

    You can read the relevant provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure here.

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  4. 4. Zee's Criminal Defamation Complaint Against Mahua Moitra

    On 19 July, days after Moitra’s complaint against Chaudhary, Zee Media Corporation Ltd filed a criminal defamation complaint against Moitra, accusing her of making “several frivolous, false, malicious and derogatory statements” against the company.

    According to PTI, the complaint says that the “intentional hate campaign of the accused has tarnished the reputation of the complainant”.

    Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Samar Vishal, sitting in the Rouse Avenue Court, conducted the pre-summoning stage procedures. ACMM Vishal is also hearing former cabinet minister MJ Akbar’s criminal defamation case against journalist Priya Ramani.

    On 25 September, he issued summons in the case against Moitra, saying,

    “There exist sufficient grounds to proceed against the respondent Moitra under Section 500 (defamation) IPC. Accordingly, Moitra is summoned for commission of offence of defamation under Section 500 of the IPC.”

    Although this case was filed after Moitra’s, the latter has proceeded more slowly thanks to the perjury application.

    Moitra was summoned by the court on 25 October, but as she had commitments in her constituency, she asked to be allowed to appear on a different date. On Friday, the judge fixed 22 November as the next date of hearing.

    Moitra will need to appear in court, following which she will be granted bail – as this is a bailable offence, bail is a matter of right, so she will not need to present arguments for bail, like say P Chidambaram or DK Shivakumar.

    (The Quint is available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)

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THAT Fascism Speech in Parliament

It all began with Moitra’s maiden speech in Parliament soon after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. On 25 June, Moitra, a first-time parliamentarian, gave a fiery speech in the Lok Sabha, drawing attention to seven indicators that she said denoted “a danger of fascism rising in India”.

The indicators included disdain for human rights, media control, obsession with national security, the intertwining of religion and government, castigation of intellectuals and the Arts, and the erosion of independence in the electoral system.

Moitra referred to a poster which was once sold in the Holocaust Museum in the US, which includes these indicators as part of a list of 14 early warning signs of fascism.

Zee Falsely Claims Speech is Plagiarised

A week after her speech, Zee News Editor-in-Chief Sudhir Chaudhary claimed that Moitra had ‘copy-pasted’ her speech from an article by Martin Longman in the Washington Monthly about US President Donald Trump, and posted a copy of the article online.

Translated, Chaudhary’s tweet says:

“This is the article of the American website from which Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra stole/plagiarised to use in her speech in the Lok Sabha. She has lifted the words directly from the article and said them. The honour of a Parliament is in danger.”

The copy of the article posted online by Chaudhary itself indicates that Longman picked his 12 early warning signs of fascism from the Holocaust Museum poster, and that these were not his own. Nevertheless, Chaudhary’s segment on Zee where he made this claim, and his tweet, gained a significant deal of traction.

Martin Longman himself eventually tweeted and clarify that Moitra was being “falsely accused of plagiarising me.” He also had some choice words for the right-wing in all countries.

Mahua Moitra's Criminal Defamation Complaint Against Sudhir Chaudhary

On 15 July, Moitra decided to file a criminal defamation complaint against Sunil Chaudhary for his claim that her speech was plagiarised. She also moved a breach of privilege motion against him in Parliament. Following procedure, Metropolitan Magistrate Preeti Parewa began looking into the complaint.

Chaudhary filed an application under Section 340 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, claiming that Moitra had committed perjury in her complaint by allegedly concealing some relevant facts.

He then approached the the additional sessions court in Delhi and asked for a stay on the proceedings taking place before the magistrate’s court over Moitra’s criminal defamation complaint, on the basis that his arguments about perjury had not been heard by the magistrate.

The additional sessions judge granted this stay on 25 September.

On 17 October, Justice Brijesh Sethi of the Delhi High Court set aside the stay order, after Moitra had argued it was wrong for the sessions court to intervene in the proceedings when it was at a pre-summoning stage.

Following this, the proceedings before the magistrate regarding Moitra’ criminal defamation complaint will now resume. On 4 November, the magistrate will decide whether to issue process and summon Sudhir Chaudhary.

What is the pre-summons stage in a criminal defamation case? And why is it relevant?

Criminal defamation complaints cannot be made to the police and instead have to be made to a magistrate, who can then order an investigation and for the case to begin. Section 199 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) also makes it clear that the complaint has to be by a person aggrieved by the alleged offence.

In such cases, the court has to examine the complaint made by the aggrieved person, which needs to contain details of how the offence of criminal defamation is made out (essentially lowering of their reputation) and a list of witnesses who can testify towards this.

After this, the complainant and their witnesses are to be examined on oath by the magistrate, according to Section 200 of the CrPC. The magistrate can also order an investigation/inquiry into the matter by the police, to see if there are sufficient grounds for proceeding with the case (Section 202, CrPC). The accused is not asked for their statement at this time.

If, after considering the statements of the complainant and the witnesses and the results of any investigation/inquiry, the judge does not think there are sufficient grounds for proceeding, then they are to dismiss the case (Section 203, CrPC). Brief reasons for this are to be recorded in writing.

It is only if the magistrate feels that there are sufficient grounds to proceed in the case, that they can then summon the accused and issue process in the case (Section 204, CrPC). Personal appearance of the accused can be dispensed with at the magistrate’s discretion, in which case the accused’s lawyer’s presence is sufficient.

It is only after this that the main trial can begin, hence the differentiation between the pre-summoning and post-summoning stages in criminal defamation cases.

You can read the relevant provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure here.

Zee's Criminal Defamation Complaint Against Mahua Moitra

On 19 July, days after Moitra’s complaint against Chaudhary, Zee Media Corporation Ltd filed a criminal defamation complaint against Moitra, accusing her of making “several frivolous, false, malicious and derogatory statements” against the company.

According to PTI, the complaint says that the “intentional hate campaign of the accused has tarnished the reputation of the complainant”.

Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Samar Vishal, sitting in the Rouse Avenue Court, conducted the pre-summoning stage procedures. ACMM Vishal is also hearing former cabinet minister MJ Akbar’s criminal defamation case against journalist Priya Ramani.

On 25 September, he issued summons in the case against Moitra, saying,

“There exist sufficient grounds to proceed against the respondent Moitra under Section 500 (defamation) IPC. Accordingly, Moitra is summoned for commission of offence of defamation under Section 500 of the IPC.”

Although this case was filed after Moitra’s, the latter has proceeded more slowly thanks to the perjury application.

Moitra was summoned by the court on 25 October, but as she had commitments in her constituency, she asked to be allowed to appear on a different date. On Friday, the judge fixed 22 November as the next date of hearing.

Moitra will need to appear in court, following which she will be granted bail – as this is a bailable offence, bail is a matter of right, so she will not need to present arguments for bail, like say P Chidambaram or DK Shivakumar.

(The Quint is available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)

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