SC to Decide Vinod Dua Case Next Week, Pulls up HP Police
The case is to be listed on 15 July, with the police to submit details of their probe in a sealed cover by 13 July.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday, 7 July, said that it would make its decision on the request by senior journalist Vinod Dua for quashing of sedition FIRs by the Himachal Pradesh Police against him next week, after raising serious questions about the investigation of the case by the authorities.
Meanwhile, the interim protection from arrest granted to Dua will continue, and the judges have also said that he is not required to respond to an ‘improper’ supplementary questionnaire sent to him by the police.
The case is to be listed on 15 July for disposal, with the police to submit details of their investigation to the apex court in a sealed cover by Monday, 13 July.
WHY WAS THIS MATTER BEING HEARD BY THE SUPREME COURT?
On 23 April, a complaint was filed with the Himachal Pradesh Police by a local BJP leader, alleging that Dua had made comments on his YouTube programme, the Vinod Dua Show, which allegedly incited communal hatred and led to a breach of peace and communal harmony.
The video in question was posted by Dua on 30 March, in which he criticised the central government over its implementation of the nationwide coronavirus lockdown.
The HP police registered an FIR against Dua under several IPC sections, including Section 124A (sedition). On 11 June, the police summoned the journalist for questioning, in response to which he filed a petition before the Supreme Court asking for the FIR to be quashed.
The court held a special Sunday hearing on 14 June in the case, but held that it could not quash the FIR at that point. The judges granted Dua protection from arrest, and told the authorities to submit a detailed status report on the case by 6 July. In the meanwhile, the police were told that they could question Dua at his own residence, after giving him 24 hours’ notice.
WHAT HAPPENED IN THE COURTROOM?
On Tuesday, 7 July, the bench of Justices UU Lalit, MM Shantanagoudar and Vineet Saran conducted a second hearing in the case.
Senior advocate Vikas Singh, who is representing Dua, claimed that the police’s interrogation of Dua was nothing more than harassment. He claimed that the HP police were sending him questionnaire after questionnaire, asking the same questions over and over again.
He also took exception to a supplementary questionnaire in which the police asked Dua why he relied on an article by someone else in his show when alleging mishandling of the COVID-19 crisis, despite being a journalist with 45 years of experience.
The article in question was an Indian Express article by P Chidambaram, reports legal journalist Murali Krishnan. The bench also agreed that such a question was not proper.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the state and central governments, made several objections to Singh’s arguments, including when Singh compared Dua’s case to that of News18 journalist Amish Devgan and Opindia’s Nupur Sharma (where the apex court stayed the FIRs against them). However Singh argued that all these cases dealt with the fundamental right to freedom of speech under Article 19(1)(a), and that they were relevant.
He also objected strongly to the invocation of Section 124A in the FIR, noting that the Supreme Court’s Kedarnath Singh judgment had clearly laid down that for a case of sedition to stand, there needed to be some incitement of violence. Attempts to add other provisions, such as those under the Disaster Management Act, were also challenged by Dua’s lawyer in court.
WHAT DID THE JUDGES DIRECT THE POLICE TO DO?
The judges criticised the HP police for failing to submit the status report of the case as ordered at the previous hearing. They also questioned their “seriousness about the investigation”, reported Bar and Bench, after noting that there was first a delay of 24 days between the complaint and getting the notice required to summon Dua – and then a further delay of one month to send the summons to him.
As a result, the bench ordered the police to submit the relevant materials to them by Monday, and said that if Dua’s contentions were correct, they would quash the case. Dua no longer has to respond to the supplementary questionnaires, though at Mehta’s request, the judges’ statement that such questionnaires should not be ‘fired off’ was expunged.
(With inputs from Bar and Bench and LiveLaw.)
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