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Delhi High Court Seeks ED's Response On Journalist Rana Ayyub's Plea Against Lookout Circular, Hearing On Monday

Nupur Thapliyal
1 April 2022 8:46 AM GMT
Delhi High Court Seeks EDs Response On Journalist Rana Ayyubs Plea Against Lookout Circular, Hearing On Monday
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The Delhi High Court on Friday sought response of the Enforcement Directorate in the plea filed by Journalist Rana Ayyub against the agency's action of restraining her from leaving the country. Justice Chandra Dhari Singh will now be hearing the matter again on Monday, April 4. Rana Ayyub had approached the Court challenging Enforcement Directorate's action of restraining her from leaving...

The Delhi High Court on Friday sought response of the Enforcement Directorate in the plea filed by Journalist Rana Ayyub against the agency's action of restraining her from leaving the country.

Justice Chandra Dhari Singh will now be hearing the matter again on Monday, April 4.

Rana Ayyub had approached the Court challenging Enforcement Directorate's action of restraining her from leaving the country. The plea therefore prayed that she must be enabled to travel out of India, and that any order or Look Out Circular or direction preventing her from travelling abroad be quashed and set aside.

Ayyub is also scheduled to travel from London to Rome on 05.04.2022 to address the Keynote Speech at the Perugia International Journalism Festival, 2022, where she is scheduled to speak about the state of journalism in India, and then return to Mumbai on 11.04.2022 via London.

An enquiry was initiated by Mumbai Zonal Office of the Enforcement Directorate under the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) against Ayyub last year over some funds received by her from the crowd funding campaigns on Ketto platform.

It is Ayyub's case that she had ran a third crowdfunding campaign on Ketto, for the purpose of providing help for Covid-19 impacted people across India during the deadly second wave of the pandemic in the country.

Ayyub was detained on March 29, 2022 in a room adjacent to the immigration counter and was informed that the immigration officers of Bureau of Immigration were seeking clarifications regarding some "remark" on her file.

The plea thus avers that Ayyub was then informed, that the immigration officers had instructions from theEnforcement Directorate to not allow her to board her flight to London, and accordingly her immigration stamp on her passport was stamped as "Cancelled".

The plea states that when Ayyub requested the immigration officers to furnish any written communication or order barring her from travelling to attend journalism related events in London, nothing was shown her, however she was informed that the ED will be emailing summons to her, thereby forming the basis for the decision to disallow her from travelling.

According to the plea, almost two hours after Ayyu had been detained at the airport, ED emailed summons to her under The Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 directing her to appear before it on April 1.

During the course of hearing today, Advocate Vrinda Grover appearing on behalf of Ayyub took the Court through various dates in order to argue that Ayyub had been cooperating and participating in the investigation, therefore calling the recent summons a "sham and an afterthought."

While Grover submitted that the documents regarding the enquiry initiated were duly received by ED's Delhi Office from Mumbai Zonal Branch, she argued that the agency had not sent any summon to her after February 1.

"After February 1, there is no summon, no communication from ED to me. Till on February 5, this is a letter from my HDFC Bank to me. I am informed by my bank. Provisional attachment takes place. I get on 8 March, this is from adjudicating authority show cause notice under PMLA. Enquiry is done, funds attached, documents recieved, show cause notice is issued. I am in regular communication thereafter," Grover argued.

Further arguing that there was nothing on record to detain me Ayyub at the airport and that no summon pending against her, Grover submitted that the whole exercise was done in a complete hasty manner.

"Actually there is no enquiry or investigation to be done. This is a sham and an afterthought, to interrupt my fundamental right as a journalist to practice my profession and my fundamental right to free speech and expression," Grover said.

She added " I am not at flight risk. My program I had announced on social media as it was a public event. I have put all that on social media. My Return is on April 11. I have to file reply (in enquiry) by April 17."

"Nobody has summoned her for questioning her till now. If the idea is that the people who are critical….if in my writing i have been critical of the State, will they then not allow me to speak? "

On the other hand, Additional Solicitor General SV Raju appearing for ED argued that Ayyub was involved in a serious offence regarding funds involving of amounts over 1 Crore rupees.

"Monies were recieved not only in dollars but also in rupees, running almost 2 crores. We have found that flaw bills have been submitted by her in the name of some entities in the name of relief work," he argued.

The Court then asked the ED to file response in the matter and posted the matter for further hearing on Monday at 2:30 PM.

About the Plea

The plea avers that the information sought in the summon was a copy of the information already sought by ED in an earlier summon dated January 25, 2022. It further states that the information which had been relied upon by ED in its original complaint, a Show Cause Notice has already been issued to her on March 8, 2022, for which she is due to file a detailed reply within the stipulated time frame by April 17.

"Thus the summon dt. 29.02.2022 is a clear sham exercise, and an afterthought, to try and legitimise the illegal and arbitrary action of the Respondent No. 1 on the instructions of the Respondent No. 2, to deny the Petitioner her fundamental right to travel as well as her fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression, inter-alia to speak at a journalism related event in London and then in Perugia near Rome, in Italy, regarding the gender based online violence faced by women journalists globally," the plea adds.

Accordingly, it has been argued in the plea that Ayyub had responded to each and every summon issued by the ED, and has also joined the investigation and recorded her statement and provided necessary documents. Therefore, there is nothing on record to suggest that she was evading the legal process.

"There is no cogent reason or ground for issuance of a Look Out Circular against the Petitioner as she has cooperated with the investigation throughout and has been in regular communication with the Respondent No. 2. There is no flight risk and the Petitioner has not evaded the legal process," the plea states.

Stating further that Ayyub being a journalist who speaks truth to power and is at times perceived to be "a source of some discomfort or inconvenience for the government", the plea argues that the same is no ground to deny her the right to travel abroad and exercise her freedom of speech and expression, as well as to practise her profession as a journalist.

"Dissenting voices are integral to the democratic society and polity envisaged by the Indian Constitution, and any mala fide or arbitrary action of the Respondents which unconstitutionally curbs free speech ought to be quashed and set aside by constitutional courts," the plea reads.

Title: RANA AYYUB v. UNION OF INDIA & ANR.

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