Sunday, September 19, 2021

Supreme Court to limit abuse of Sedition and 153A IPC

“A news report yesterday (Sunday) showed a dead body was being thrown into river. I don’t know if a sedition case has been filed against the news channel yet,” Justice Chandrachud remarked.

During the hearing of suo motu COVID case, Justice DY Chandrachud had sarcastically asked this question on 31st May 2021. While hearing the case of Covid19 on April 30, 2021, the Supreme Court made it clear that there can be no clampdown on citizens communicating their pandemic related grievances on social media. Any such action by the authorities will be treated as contempt of court, a Bench headed by Justice Chandrachud and also comprising Justices L Nageswara Rao and Ravindra Bhat had warned on April 30.Same bench was hearing the writ petition of two TV Channels from AP which were charged with Sedition. This Bench observed: “It is time we define the limits of sedition”.

Also read: Strong Medical Report and Weak FIR freed Raju

Sedition terror by AP Govt

The AP Government and Police, which unleashed sedition terror received another admonition from Supreme Court.  We have a democratic government that implicates TV news channels for telecasting the criticism of a ruling party MP Raghu Ramakrishnam Raju, after arresting MP for those speeches in sedition case. Had the Supreme Court not granted bail, MP would have been languishing in jail with injuries inflicted on his body, which the Government says ‘self-inflicted’ and SC says ‘ill-treatment’ in custody. Supreme Court came up again to help two channel heads from being arrested by the AP Government.  On 31st May, SC stayed any coercive action against two- TV5 news and ABN Andhra Jyoti- in the FIRs registered by Andhra Pradesh police alleging sedition against them.

Also read: Bail given after the fierce legal battle

A self-inflicted injury of AP

Abuse of Sedition is ‘self-inflicted’ injury of Andhra Pradesh Government. When a terror organization claims responsibility for the destruction, FIR is booked against that organization without naming individuals. AP Police booked FIR against two TV News channels without naming any person. It reflects both inefficiency and atrocious character. Inefficient because it did not find anybody to blame for ‘sedition’ and atrocious because two media organizations were implicated for that crime.

This kind of attitude of AP Government and Police gave channels sufficient scope to file writ petitions seeking the quashing of FIRs. They have rightly invoked the warning of SC on April 30, referred above, and sought action under contempt of court contending that the Andhra Police action violated the April 30 order of the Supreme Court which restrained arrest and prosecution against citizens for ventilating grievances with respect to COVID issues.

Also read: Mukul Rohatgi explains why MP Raju should not be examined in Andhra Pradesh

To muzzle press freedom

Senior Advocates Shyam Divan and Sidharth Luthra, represented TV5 News and ABN Andhra Jyoti respectively, contended that the FIRs were registered against the channels for publishing the press statements of rebel YSCRP MP Raghu Ramakrishnam Raju. A bench ofJustices DY Chandrachud, L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat expressed a prima facie view that the FIRs are an attempt to “muzzle media freedom”.

Need to limit use of sedition.

The bench rightly observed that the there was a need to define the scope of offences under Section 124A (sedition) and 153A (promotion of communal hatred) under the Indian Penal Code, especially in the context of media freedom.

The Bench wrote: “….we are of the view that the ambit and parameters of the provisions of Sections 124A, 153A and 505 of the Indian Penal Code 1860 would require interpretation, particularly in the context of the right of the electronic and print media to communicate news, information and the rights, even those that may be critical of the prevailing regime in any part of the nation”.

This means the examination of the issue and result would provide relief to entire nation. If the Supreme Court prevents abuse of Sedition by political Governments, it will be success of  democracy and Jagan Mohan Reddy will be thanked for giving such a scope.

On April 30, a 3-judge bench had issued notice on a petition challenging the constitutionality of Section 124A IPC.  The bench issued notices on the petitions of the news channels and stayed coercive actions against them till the next date of hearing.

It was pleaded on behalf of news channels that the FIR fails to make out the offences against them and that they have been constrained to approach the Supreme Court in light of the YSR MP being reportedly arrested in pursuance of the impugned FIR and suffering custodial torture at the hands of the Respondent authorities.

News channels argued that the only allegation in the impugned FIR against their channel is that they allotted “premediated” and “organized” slots to MP Raju, which according to the impugned FIR evinces a meeting of minds amongst the accused persons. They also said that the intention of the impugned FIR to criminalise the act of airing views of a sitting MP, who is a public figure, is clearly violative of the news channels right to freedom of speech and expression, which also creates a chilling effect for media houses in the State.

Senior Advocate Shyam Divan and Advocates Vipin Nair and PB Suresh argued for TV5 in cases titled: M/s Shreya Broadcasting Private Ltd and another v State of Andhra Pradesh, Aamoda Broadcasting Company Private Ltd and another v State of Andhra Pradesh.

Andhra Jyothi’s petition stated that ever since YS Jagan Mohan Reddy led government came to power, “ABN Andhrajyothi” news channel has been “targeted by the State Government and its broadcasting was stopped at the ruling party/State Government’s behest, forcing it to approach the Hon’ble TDSAT and despite the Order, the access to the Petitioners’ channel is limited in Andhra Pradesh.”

TV5 has submitted that it has approached the Supreme Court since main accused, Raju, was reportedly arrested in pursuance of the FIR and suffered custodial torture at the hands of the Police. The TV channel contended that it could be meted out the same treatment if the Supreme Court does not intervene on an urgent basis.

Also read: How can criticism be seditious?

The SC Order

The SC emphatically said that the FIRs do not establish the offence invoked against them, which was the case with MP Raju also.

Justice Chandrachud said: If a TV channel says something it cannot be called as sedition. The Bench ordered:

“The germane of allegation arises from certain program which was broadcast involving participation of Kanumuri Raghu Ramakrishna Raju. The FIRs do not establish the offence invoked against them. Article 32 jurisdiction has been invoked saying our earlier order stated that contempt would be issued if coercive arm of law is used against free speech. Till the next date of listing there shall be stay on coercive action against the two TV channels and their personnel,” the Court ordered.

(courtesy: livelaw.in and bar and bench.com)

Prof. M. Sridhar Acharyulu
Author is Dean, Professor of law at Mahindra University at Hyderabad and former Central Information Commissioner. He published a number books in English and Telugu.

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