The Supreme Court on Thursday quashed a sedition case registered against a senior journalist Vinod Dua for his critical remarks about the Prime Minister and the Union Government in a YouTube telecast while underscoring its 59-year-old verdict that “strong words” of disapproval about the ruling regime does not amount to sedition.
A Bench led by Justice U.U. Lalit upheld the right of every journalist to criticise, even brutally, the government’s measures to improve or alter them through legal means. The free speech of a journalist should be protected from charges of sedition.
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The apex court judgment by Justice Lalit upheld the spirit and intent of its 1962 Kedar Nath Singh judgment, which said that “commenting in strong terms upon the measures or acts of Government, or its agencies, so as to ameliorate the condition of the people or to secure the cancellation or alteration of those acts or measures by lawful means, that is to say, without exciting those feelings of enmity and disloyalty which imply excitement to public disorder or the use of violence is not sedition”.
“Every journalist is entitled to protection under the Kedar Nath Singh judgment,” Justice Lalit declared.
The 1962 judgment had said Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (sedition) was intended only to punish subversion of a lawfully established government through violent means.
The court acknowledged the submission made by Dua, who is currently recovering from Covid, that "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".
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The judgment came as a blow to the government, which had even raised the question whether journalism itself could legally be termed a profession. The government had said that a “professional” was someone who had a client relationship.
The verdict on Thursday may spell a push-back from the court against the indiscriminate number of sedition cases being filed against critical journalists, citizens, lawyers and activists. Recently, another Bench of the Supreme Court, in a separate case on sedition charges levelled against two Telugu channels by the Andhra government, had said it was time to define the limits of the sedition law.
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The complaint against Dua was filed by a BJP leader. The senior journalist was accused of spreading fake news. Besides sedition, the other charges include causing a public nuisance, the printing of defamatory matter and making statements conducive to public mischief.
Senior advocate Vikas Singh for Dua had argued on the central point that “fair criticism is not sedition”. The apex court had protected Dua from arrest in June 2020.
Dua had approached the Supreme Court after the Himachal 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 Police made their presence known to Dua shortly after the Delhi High Court stayed an FIR registered by the Delhi Police on the same telecast.
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