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SC verdict today on Vinod Dua’s petition

The Supreme Court is scheduled to pronounce its judgment on Thursday on a petition filed by senior journalist and Padma Shri awardee Vinod Dua to quash a sedition case registered against him in Himachal Pradesh for his YouTube telecast on the Delhi riots last year.

Mr. Dua and his wife are recovering from COVID-19.

A Bench led by Justice U.U. Lalit would primarily decide whether Mr. Dua’s argument that government meets criticism with charges of sedition holds.

“There is a recent trend against the media where State governments, who do not find a particular telecast to be in sync with their political ideologies, register FIRs against persons of the media primarily to harass them and to intimidate them so that they succumb to the line of the State or else face the music at the hands of the police,” Mr. Dua had submitted in the apex court.

The judgment comes even as the Supreme Court, in a separate case on sedition charges levelled against two Telugu channels by the Andhra Pradesh government, had said it was time to define the limits of the sedition law.

Accused of fake news

The complaint against Mr. Dua was filed by a BJP leader. The senior journalist was accused of spreading fake news. Besides sedition, the other charges include causing public nuisance, printing of defamatory matter and making statements conducive to public mischief.

During the court hearing, senior advocate Vikas Singh had read out excerpts from Mr. Dua’s telecast and submitted that “if this makes out to be sedition, then half the country is committing the crime”. Mr. Singh had argued that criticism of public measures or a comment on government action, however strongly worded, would be within reasonable limits of free speech. Fair criticism was not sedition

The apex court had protected Mr. Dua from arrest in June 2020.

Mr. Dua had approached the Supreme Court after the Himachal Pradesh Police appeared at his residence on June 12 last year and ordered him to be present at the remote Kumarsain police station — at least a 20-hour drive from Delhi — the very next day (June 13) at 10 a.m.

Incidentally, the Himachal Pradesh Police made their presence known to Mr. Dua shortly after the Delhi High Court stayed an FIR registered by the Delhi Police on the same telecast.

The government, represented by Additional Solicitor General S.V. Raju, had submitted that even an attempt to disobey an order promulgated by a public servant (Section 188 IPC) or giving provocation with intent to cause a riot (Section 153 IPC) amounts to a cognisable offence. Mr. Raju reiterated that even an attempt to commit these crimes would make a cognisable offence.

Mr. Raju had also raised the question whether a journalist came under the legal definition of a “professional”. He said a professional was someone who had a client relationship. The government argued that a journalist was like any other citizen.

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