The Supreme Court has stayed further proceedings in a fresh FIR lodged in West Bengal against some persons, including editors of a news web portal, in connection with articles published by them. The top court also made the protection granted in an interim order of last year to Nupur J Sharma, the editor of English language web portal, and others including its founder and CEO, as absolute.supr
A bench of justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and MM Sundresh, while dealing with the fresh FIR said, “Further proceedings in pursuance of FIR registered at Bhadreswar Police Station shall remain stayed .It said that interim orders passed on June 26, 2020 in the main writ petition filed last year are made absolute and posted the next hearing in November. Interim orders are made absolute. Liberty to the petitioners to file additional documents. The parties to file short synopsis running into not more than two pages each. List on a non-miscellaneous Tuesday in the month of November 2021," the bench said in its order passed on September 3.
On June 26 last year, the top court had stayed further proceedings in three FIRs lodged in West Bengal against petitioners. In their intervention application, Nupur J Sharma and others said that they are constrained to move the top court due to persistent hounding and victimisation by the West Bengal government, who in its endeavour to scuttle inconvenient media reports registered multiple FIRs against them".
The application further said, “That the order dated June 26, 2020 came as a respite to the petitioners whose honour, life and liberty were sought to be repeatedly undermined by the state…"
However, “it appears that the respondents are unrelenting in the efforts to persecute the petitioners/applicants as the petitioners/applicants have recently on August 5, been served with a notice under section 41A of the CrPC from CID, West Bengal in relation to FIR registered with Bhadreshwar police station," it said.
It said that the FIR relates to media reports published in opindia.com about Telenipara communal riots of May 2020 and were registered contemporaneously around the same time as FIRs, which forms the subject matter of the writ petition.
The petitioners said that the FIR came to their notice only on the receipt of the notice under section 41CrPC on August 5 requiring them to appear before the investigating officer on August 13 but later the investigating officer through an email dated August 12 asked the petitioner to appear on August 23.
They sought a stay on the investigation emanating from the FIR registered at Bhadreshwar police station and the notice issued to them for appearing before investigating officer.
The petitioners also sought quashing of the FIR. On June 26 last year, the apex court had, while staying the three FIRs, issued notices to the West Bengal government and the Centre seeking their replies on the plea.
The main writ petition filed by Sharma and others including the founder and CEO of the news portal and editor of its Hindi language publications claimed that the West Bengal government and its “authoritarian Kolkata Police" are misusing FIRs and “brute police powers" to intimidate journalists.
“The petitioners are constrained to invoke the extraordinary writ jurisdiction of this court under Article 32 of the Constitution against the patently extortionist and mala fide actions of the Government of West Bengal to impose illegal censorship in the state by threatening, scuttling, and gagging honest media houses through misuse of state police," the plea has claimed.
The petitioners claimed they were informed that the cause of one of the FIRs lodged by police was an article published by the news web portal on the issue of alleged hiding of data related to COVID-19.
The plea claimed that one of the FIRs lodged pertained to a news report published by the web portal in October last year.
It alleged that to undermine the freedom of press, the state has rather chosen to “hound down" the petitioners by registering multiple FIRs in order to “bargain for deletion of news articles by putting the petitioner’s life and liberty at bait". It claimed the state and the police are not only intimidating the journalists but also threatening their family members to seek deletion of media reports which bring to the public notice “the actual state of affairs in the state of West Bengal during these difficult times".
It also alleged that the police had intimidated some of the petitioners to get the news articles deleted. “Accordingly, the officers while insulting and demeaning the petitioner no. 1, asked her to use her influence to get the articles removed or to face the brunt of state’s political executives," it has claimed.
The plea claimed that deleting any content from the internet has a nationwide effect and any decision to delete any content has to be left to be taken by the Centre and not by state governments. It has also sought a direction to exclude the role of police in the matter of deletion of content on the internet particularly since there exists a regulatory mechanism for overseeing such content and restricting any mischievous contents.