A Vacation Bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and BR Gavai took up the plea filed by OpIndia editor Nupur Sharma and three others via video conferencing today. It stayed three First Information Reports (FIRs) registered in West Bengal against online publication OpIndia’s editors and writers including Nupur Sharma and Ajeet Bharti.
While staying the FIRs against OpIndia editors under challenge, the Court also issued notice to the State of West Bengal.
The petitioners have also sought for exclusion of the police in matters concerning deletion of content on the internet, stating that there already exists a regulatory mechanism for overseeing such content as per Section 69A of the Information Technology Act (IT Act).
OpIndia editors were represented by Senior Advocate Mahesh Jethmalani along with Advocates Sandeep Kapur, Siya Chaudhary, and Madhulika Rai Sharma. The petition was filed through Advocate Ravi Sharma.
OpIndia editors being the petitoners claimed that the “authoritarian Kolkata police” has resorted to using the registration of FIRs as a way to “intimidate journalists” in order to seek deletion of online content and reports that shine a light on the state of affairs in West Bengal.
The police’s action is one aimed at scuttling and muzzling free speech and the notices issued under Section 414 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) are done with the intention to harass the petitioners, the plea further goes on to allege. It adds that the police has refused to supply a copy of the FIRs to the petitioners or even upload the same on its website, despite several requests made for the same.
The state has “blatantly misused” the powers of the police under the CrPC to “scuttle bonafide instances of journalism” that may inconvenience the state and its political executive, the petitioners say. Contravention of Articles 19(1)(a) and 21 of the Constitution of India is claimed.
“The State of West Bengal is unrelenting in its endeavour to hound down the Petitioners and in the process has contrived to get a further FIR registered against the petitioners under Sections 153A/504/505/120B of the IPC…”
The third FIR, it is averred, is in connection to a OpIndia news item that is eight months old and does not make out the ingredients of the offences alleged by the police. Further, a news report on the same was published by other outlets, but action taken only against the petitioners.
Read the order here: