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Shashi Tharoor, six journalists get Supreme Court protection from arrest

February 10, 2021 05:14 AM

COURTESY HT FEB 10

Shashi Tharoor, six journalists get Supreme Court protection from arrest
Utkarsh Anand

letters@hindustantimes.com

New Delhi : The Supreme Court on Tuesday protected Congress MP Shashi Tharoor and journalist Rajdeep Sardesai from arrest in cases registered against them for posting “misleading” tweets over the death of a young protestor during the tractor rally organised by farmers in the Capital on January 26 even as the solicitor-general of India sought to highlight the “horrendous” effect of their social media posts.

Apart from Tharoor and Sardesai, the top court also stayed arrest of five journalists — Mrinal Pande, Zafar Agha, Vinod Jose, Paresh Nath and Anant Nath — and fixed the matter for a hearing after two weeks. It issued notices on their petitions for quashing the FIRs filed against them across five states.

An SC bench headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde issued the interim order of protection after solicitor general Tushar Mehta, who appeared for Delhi Police and the Uttar Pradesh government, refrained from offering an assurance that Tharoor and the six journalists will not be arrested until the time the court hears the matter next.

Instead, Mehta sought to emphasise the negative impact of the social media posts. “This court may not be aware of the horrendous effect these twitter handles (of Tharoor and others) have. Most of them have followings in lakhs,” he submitted before the bench, which also included justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian.

The court was emphatic that either Mehta give an assurance that the petitioners would not be arrested or the court would have to issue a restraining order against the authorities of Delhi, UP, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and Karnataka, where as many as nine FIRs have been registered invoking charges of sedition and promoting enmity against the seven people.

The genesis of the cases were tweets in which Tharoor and Sardesai, a TV journalist, attributed the death of a protestor during the tractor rally in the capital to police firing. Tharoor later deleted the tweet after coming to know that the reported incident was false and the death was due to an accident involving the protestor who had rammed police barricades. In a broadcast, Sardesai agreed he jumped the gun.

The Caravan magazine, with whom Vinod Jose, Paresh Nath and Anant Nath are associated, suggested, based on a witness testimony that Navreet Singh, the protestor, was likely shot by the police. Pande and Agha also posted Tweets in the same vein.

On Tuesday, senior advocates Kapil Sibal, Mukul Rohatgi and Rebecca John appeared for Tharoor and others, pointing out that the issue of multiple FIRs for the same cause of action was settled by the SC in a case involving another journalist, Arnab Goswami.

Deciding Goswami’s case, the SC clubbed all FIRs arising out of his statements on a TV show to one place and also granted him interim protection from arrest for a certain period.

Sibal cited the same ruling, prompting the bench to agree that the present case was covered by the judgment in Goswami’s case.

With no categorical assurance from Mehta, Sibal and Rohatgi pressed their plea for interim protection from arrest, spurring the bench to issue a protective order.

“...We are protecting them from arrest for two weeks. Let all parties file replies,” said the CJI

 
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