Observing that the press has a right to report, the Allahabad High Court on Friday, 2 July, reserved an order on a plea moved by Umar Gautam, accused in a religious conversion racket. Gautam had sought a court-ordered restriction on the media from misreporting and making premature statements in connection with the case.
A bench of Justices Ramesh Sinha and Vikas Srivastava, according to LiveLaw, said to Gautam's counsel:
"Press has the right to report. Have you read Justice Chandrachud's judgment of Supreme Court?"
What Umar Gautam Alleged
Submitting that he was being illegally framed in false cases, the petitioner alleged that multiple news outlets had made statements based on a purported press release issued by the respondent investigating agency with the sole aim to vilify and severely prejudice his right to a fair trial.
He also alleged that the UP police had disclosed information, which are speculative, unconfirmed and judgemental towards him, to the media, causing irreversible and irreparable prejudice towards him in his bid to prove his innocence.
According to Livelaw, Gautam's counsel claimed:
"The published articles based on statements purportedly made by the Petitioner — which are wholly inadmissible, a product of coercion, and do not contain an iota of truth — have caused severe prejudice to the Petitioner's right to a fair investigation and trial as secured under Article 21 of the Constitution."
Umar Gautam's Plea
Umar Gautam, in his plea, sought from the court to:
Direct the UP police and the state government to not leak any allegation pending investigation and during trial and to withdraw all allegations contained in the purported press release.
Direct media outlets to take down the sensitive/confidential information leaked to them by the officials.
Issue guidelines on media reporting of ongoing criminal probes.
The Case Against Umar Gautam
Gautam, an Islamic scholar and founder of the Islamic Da’wah Centre (IDC), had converted to Islam from the Hindu faith. He has been accused of converting 1,000 persons in UP and allegedly getting many of them married to muslims. He was arrested in June by the UP Police Anti-Terror squad.
The charges levelled against him so far pertain to cheating, criminal conspiracy, promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, etc, committing acts against national integration, insulting religious beliefs, and attempting to commit offences.
Gautam and another employee of the IDC, Jahangir Kasmi, have also been charged under the UP’s anti-conversion law, passed in November 2020.
(With inputs from LiveLaw.)