Quashing the sedition case against veteran journalist Vinod Dua, by the Supreme Court, and declaring that every journalist is entitled to protection is indeed a judgment that has brought relief, cheer, and hope not just for an individual journalist but to the entire Media fraternity. For Dua and his family, this legal reprieve could not have come at a better time. Fighting severe COVID-19 infection, Dua and his wife are in the hospital for the past few weeks and this news is bound to speed up their healing.
The case against Dua was filed by BJP Himachal Pradesh leader at a police station in Shimla district on May 6, 2020. The charge was that in one of his Youtube news program, he had criticized Prime Minister Narendra Modi . The judgment in the case had been reserved on 6th October 2020.
Incidentally, the case had been filed in Himachal a few hours after the Delhi High Court had stayed any further police action in the FIR filed against Vinod Dua on a police complaint of a Delhi BJP leader.
Thursday’s Supreme Court judgment was based on the citing of Kedarnath Singh landmark Judgment of 1962 on sedition.
The Apex Court ruled that Dua neither incited violence nor attempted to create public disorder, the two prime conditions vital for slapping sedition charges.
As soon as the judgment was announced there was a flood of reaction from all quarters.
Supreme Court advocate, Saif Mehmood, while hailing the judgment said that the Court has through this judgment recognized that the archaic law of sedition cannot be used for political vendetta and to stifle the Fundamental Right of the freedom of speech. The judgment, he said, aims at telling constitutional courts that they cannot remain just mere spectators to the abuse of criminal procedure.
“The message is clear and loud, Courts must exercise the wide powers conferred on them and ensure that such malicious attempts are nipped right in the bud,” said Saif, speaking to Siasat on phone.
However, he was disappointed that the court had not imposed cost on the prosecution which permitted and vociferously defended such abuse.
Many journalists also expressed disappointment that Vinod Dua’s second plea in which he had requested that a committee be constituted to verify allegations against journalists before an FIR is lodged was rejected by the Court. Dua had in his petition requested that FIR against journalists with over 10 years of professional experience be only filed after the approval of a duly constituted committee. This will said the plea will ensure that there is no undue harassment of journalists and that they are not dragged into litigation if their writings clashed with the political ideology of the government.
The court however refused this plea and termed it as an encroachment into the legislative domain.
The ruling of India’s Apex Court is being viewed by the global media circle.
Mazhar Farooqui, senior features editor, Gulf News Dubai, though happy at the judgment was apprehensive and concerned about the not so resourceful media persons who have to bear the brunt of writing the truth.
“For a country which ranks 142nd out of the 180 on the World Press Freedom Index, the Judgment springs hope, but it remains to be seen if it will have any bearing on the many journalists languishing in Indian jails on trumped-up charges for doing their jobs honestly,” he said in a telephone conversation from Dubai.
Gyanendra Shukla, senior electronic media journalist based out of Lucknow. said that the Supreme Court judgment is a milestone and one can hope it will help curtail the abuse of the Sedition Act and pave way for a free and fair press and the Fourth Pillar of true democracy.
“We journalists are society’s watchdog and it is our work to criticize wrong government policies, but fear of sedition charges against any journalist will adversely affect the best practices in the media and set a dangerous trend when Media will become just a mouthpiece of government,” he said.