On 6 June, the Supreme Court quashed the sedition case filed against veteran journalist Vinod Dua. The case was registered by the Himachal Pradesh Police in connection with Dua’s YouTube show wherein he had criticised the central government on the way it had implemented the COVID-19 lockdown.
While quashing the case, the Bench of Justices UU Lalit and Vineet Saran noted that the high threshold of sedition set out in the Kedar Nath judgment benefits journalists as well.
Request to Form Committee Denied
While the court quashed the case against Dua, it rejected his demand for the formation of a high-level committee in each state to examine sedition charges slapped against journalists of 10 years’ standing.
We have rejected the committee-formation prayer since it will be directly encroaching upon the legislative domain. However, the FIR against Vinod Dua stands quashed.Supreme Court
In June 2020, the apex court had issued interim directions to protect Dua from arrest in the matter, although the Bench declined to stay the FIR filed in Himachal Pradesh by a BJP leader.
The Case Against Dua
Dua was accused of having made certain ‘objectionable statements’ on his YouTube programme, 'Vinod Dua show'. The First Information Report was registered against him based on a complaint filed by BJP leader Ajay Shyam.
He alleged the statements in the episode streamed on 30 March 2020 were capable of inciting communal hatred and led to breach of peace and communal disharmony.
He was charged with grave offences under the IPC including sedition (section 124A), public nuisance (section 268), printing defamatory matter (section 501) and intent to cause public mischief (section 505).
Dua was also charged for offences under the Disaster Management Act, including those of spreading misinformation and false claims.
Dua in his petition before the Supreme Court submitted that the video in question critically analysed the failures of the Government of India concerning the declaration of a nationwide lockdown and how it was implemented.
The Petitioner also made a reference to the alleged politicisation of the army’s retaliation to the Pulwama Attack and use of the same in the last elections. However, there was nothing in the video that could be remotely termed ‘criminal’.The petition
Senior Advocate Vikas Singh, arguing for Dua, had submitted that the allegation that Dua's show had caused the migrant labourers’ exodus amid the COVID-19 lockdown was only an afterthought and it was not part of the complaint, to begin with.
Brazen Attack on Free Speech: Editors Guild on FIR Against Dua
Days after the Delhi Police’s Crime Branch lodged an FIR against Dua, on a complaint by BJP spokesperson Naveen Kumar, who accused the senior journalist of “marketing fake news”, the Editors Guild of India issued a statement in support of him.
“The Editors Guild of India is deeply concerned by the growing tendency among police in various states to take cognisance of frivolous charges against journalists and convert them into a First Information Report (FIR),” the statement read.
Calling the accusations, a brazen attack on Dua's right to free speech and fair comment, the Guild added, "An FIR based on this is an instrument of harassment setting off a process that is itself a punishment."
“The Guild unequivocally condemns this practice and urges the police to respect Constitutionally guaranteed freedoms rather than behave in a manner that raises questions on its independence.”The Editors Guild of India