The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed the Himachal Pradesh police to file status report in a sealed cover with requisite details within a week in the ongoing investigation against Journalist Vinod Dua on charges of sedition.
A bench led by Justice Uday Umesh Lalit was hearing the plea seeking quashing of FIR filed against Journalist Vinod Dua and took note of the questionnaire which Dua was made to answer by the Authorities. The bench has said that Dua does not need to answer the supplementary questionnaire sent by the police.
The bench also orally observed that once the details of investigation are placed before court and if the court is satisfied with the journalist's contentions, the Court will quash the FIR "straight away".
"If we are satisfied that contention raised by petitioner is correct, we will quash the FIR straight away", observed the Court, posting the matter to July 15. The interim protection from arrest, granted on June 14, has been extended till the next date of hearing.
Dua is facing FIRs from multiple states, including the most recent ones in Maharashtra and West Bengal.
An FIR was registered against Dua in Shimla, Himachal Pradesh whereby he was summoned by the Shimla Police in connection with a sedition charge levelled against him by local Bharatiya Janata Party leader Ajay Shyam.
Today, Senior Advocate Vikas Singh argued on behalf of Dua and stated that his client was being harassed for exercising his constitutional right of Freedom of Speech.
Singh: "I don't have to answer the Investigation authorities why I criticized the Govt. For 45 years I have been into responsible Journalism. I am constitutionally protected. I am not obliged to give them any answer. They have also used the Disaster Management Act against me. The way I am being questioned & the kind of questions I am being asked amounts to outright harassment."
Further to this, Singh cited the recent cases where the Top Court had granted protection to Journalists and stayed FIRs filed against them, such as the cases of Amish Devgan and OpIndia Editors.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta heavily objected to the arguments advanced by Singh and stated that the issues in all the cited cases were very different. The bench added that the the relief in each case was dependent on its facts.
At this juncture, the bench stated that the Investigation must move forward in a streamlined manner and Dua cannot be made to answer "fire-off" questions.
The Solicitor General requested the bench to phrase the phrase "fire-off", stating that it would have adverse consequences. The bench agreed to this, withdrawing the expression.
The bench directed that the status report detailing all requisite aspects of the investigation be filed within a week and added that the same be done in a "sealed cover".
"We understand your reservations regarding parting with information that may be sensitive. So file your status report in a sealed cover" - Justice UU Lalit stated.
The matter is to now come up for hearing on July 15.
On June 14, following Directions were passed by the Bench;
a) Pending further orders, the petitioner shall not be arrested in connection with the present crime;
(b) However, the petitioner in terms of the offer made by him in his communication dated 12.06.2020, shall extend full cooperation through Video Conferencing or Online mode; and
(c) The Himachal Pradesh Police shall be entitled to carry on the investigation including interrogation of the petitioner at his residence after giving him prior notice of 24 hours and complying with the Social Distancing norms prescribed during Covid-19 Pandemic.
The bench had then refused to stay the investigation, despite fervent pleas by Senior Advocate Vikas Singh, who appeared for Dua.
Singh said that the FIR was a "harassment" for airing views unpalatable to the government.
"If what Dua said is sedition, then only two channels can function in the country", he submitted.
The summons by Shimla police came two days after the Delhi High Court stayed an FIR filed against Dua for allegedly spreading fake news through his YouTube show on communal violence in Delhi in February. The FIR filed in Shimla is also related to the show.