10 July 2023 11:03 AM GMT
The Supreme Court on Monday granted interim protection from arrest to the editor of Malayalam YouTube News Channel 'Marunadan Malayalee' Shajan Skaria in a criminal case under the SC/ST Act over making alleged derogatory remarks against MLA PV Sreenijin."Pending further orders, there shall be a stay of arrest", ordered the bench comprising Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud and Justice...
The Supreme Court on Monday granted interim protection from arrest to the editor of Malayalam YouTube News Channel 'Marunadan Malayalee' Shajan Skaria in a criminal case under the SC/ST Act over making alleged derogatory remarks against MLA PV Sreenijin.
"Pending further orders, there shall be a stay of arrest", ordered the bench comprising Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud and Justice PS Narasimha while issuing notice on the special leave petition filed by Skaria challenging the Kerala High Court's dismissal of his appeal against rejection of anticipatory bail by Special Court in the matter. The FIR was registered on a complaint lodged by Sreenijin. The matter will be considered after three weeks.
"His statements may be defamatory, but these are not offences under the SC/ST Act. He may have said something against the father-in-law (of the complainant), judiciary etc, which may be in bad taste", CJI said.
Senior Advocate V Giri, appearing for Sreenijin, requested the bench to read the transcript of the video. Saying that he has read the transcript, CJI said, "there is no whisper of allegation under SC/ST Act. It is true that the complainant belongs to a Scheduled Caste. Merely because your client is a member of SC and he said something nasty to your client, this has no implications on the caste status at all".
Giri, referring to Section 3(1)(r) of the SC/ST Act, said that whoever intentionally insults or intimidates a member of SC in public view is an offender. To test the argument, CJI used a hypothetical example. "Suppose, a member of Scheduled Caste has a contract with B. He does not return the money to B. B calls him a cheater. Does that amount to offence under the provision?".
Giri said that it depends on whether the person had the intention to insult on the basis of caste status and it has to be gathered from the facts. "On the face of the statement, is there anything remotely suggesting that he has humiliated on the ground that you belonged to a scheduled caste?", CJI asked.
Giri said that Skariah is a repeat offender who has made insulting statements against several persons. "So should we be teaching him a lesson because we don't approvie of his statement by sending him to jail?That is very harsh", CJI asked. Giri underlined that Skaria used severely insulting statements against Skariah calling him a "mafia don", "black money dealer", "murderer" etc. The senior lawyer said that Skaria in his video identified Sreenijin as an MLA of Kunnathunadu, which is a reserve constituency for SC for years.
"Such comments may be defamatory, but not offences under SC/ST Act. We totally with you agree that these statements are in bad taste, we disapprove of his statement. But, in criminal law you have to see the matter strictly because someone's liberty is at stake", CJI said.
After passing the order granting relief, the bench asked Senior Advocate Siddharth Luthra, Skaria's lawyer, to advise him to be more restrained in his comments as a senior journalist.
The CJI also said that went through the matter carefully after seeing the strong order passed by the High Court. "The High Court had written such a strong order. So I thought let me go through the statement. Sometimes stronger the order is, you have to be more careful in looking into it".
The accused Skaria had telecast a news item regarding alleged mal-administration of Sports Hostel by Sreenijin in his capacity as the Chairman, District Sports Council.
The Special Judge for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act Honey M. Varghese found the allegations levelled by the appellant against MLA Sreenijin, to be insulting and defamatory. The Court found that Skaria had knowledge that the de-facto complainant belongs to scheduled caste community, and that the publication of the news item containing derogatory comments through his YouTube channel was sufficient to attract the offence alleged under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.
The Kerala High Court dismissed his appeal against the same. The Single Judge Bench of Justice V.G. Arun observed while passing the order–
"It is pertinent to note that the allegations levelled against the second respondent include murder and contains insinuation against the second respondent's father in law, aspersions on unnamed judicial officers and bestows the title 'Mafia Don' on the second respondent. As such, it can unhesitatingly be held that the video contains insults, which are intended to humiliate the second respondent (MLA Sreenijin) in public view."
The High Court also wondered whether journalism has now become 'defame, denigrate, damnify and destroy'.
Case Title: Shajan Skaria v The State of Kerala | SLP(Crl) No. 8081/2023
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