Supriya Sharma and Naresh Fernandes, Scroll editors of the website Scroll.in have filed a plea in the Allahabad High Court challenging an FIR registered against them while also seeking a stay on coercive action following the same.
The FIR against scroll editors was registered in connection to a news article highlighting the plight of the villages in Varanasi district, which had been adopted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The FIR was registered against the two under Sections 269 and 501 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) andSections 3(1)(r) and 3(1)(s) of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989 after the article was published by Scroll editors. The FIR was lodged at Ramnagar Police Station in Varanasi District.
The FIR against scroll editors was registered based on a complaint filed by a woman who alleged that the news article quoted her incorrectly and mocked her for belonging to the scheduled caste community.
The petitioners had sought that the FIR to be quashed and further a stay on their arrests if the same is pursued.
While asserting that no prima facie offence had been committed the petitioners claimed that the FIR is “wholly false, motivated, malicious, baseless and untenable”.
The petition reads,
“The registration of the said FIR amounts to an abuse of the process of law, intended to intimidate, silence and punish independent journalism; and any coercive action against the Petitioners would amount to a grave miscarriage of justice.”
The petitioners submitted that the news article published by Scroll was based on the interviews carried out by Sharma and was based on facts collected during the same. While undertaking to submit a complete audio recording of the interview in the court, the plea stated,
“That the Petitioner No. 1 has followed standard journalistic practice in audio recording the interview of Ms. Mala and reporting the news story based on what Ms. Mala had stated in the interview. All reporting about Ms. Mala in the concerned news article has been done bonafide and is based on the primary account given by Ms. Mala herself.”
It also added that the FIR against the journalist is “abuse of the process of law, meant to intimidate and harass independent journalists and stifle freedom of press from reporting critical stories stating the unvarnished truth and grim reality about the lives of vulnerable groups”
It is argued that the FIR against scroll editors has no merits and sustainable facts and there exists no prima facie material to make out a cognizable offence against the petitioners. On the other hand there existed overwhelming facts and circumstances to prove that the FIR against Scroll editors is fabricated.
The petitioner contended that inclusion of Section 269 of the IPC shows non-application of mind in registering the FIR and adds,
“The inclusion of this criminal offence in the FIR betrays the cavalier, malicious and arbitrary manner in which the Respondents have acted against the Petitioners.”
Further, the inclusion of Section 501 of the IPC in the FIR, which the petitioners state could have been invoked only after the complainant had made a complaint before the competent Court as per the procedure laid down under Section 199 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC). Thus, invoking this section shows that the police acted in a “motivated and over-zealous” manner.
Further while denying the mischief aspect under Section 501 the petitioner submitted that the report published was solely based on facts on the basis of the interview conducted.
While refuting the chargesunder SC/ST Act the petitioner clarifies that the article on Scroll clearly shows that there is no intentional insult or hurt caused.
Given that there is no prima facie case made out and there is no need for custodial interrogation, their right to liberty ought not to be curtailed and thus they have prayed for a stay on their arrest pursuant to the FIR in case of scroll editors.
The petition is drawn by Advocates Vrinda Grover, Swetashwa Agarwal, and Raghav Dwivedi and the petitioners will be represented by Senior Advocate Dinesh Dwivedi before the Court.