Climate activist Disha Ravi, arrested for alleged involvement in sharing a toolkit backing the ongoing farmers' protest, moved the Delhi High Court on Thursday seeking to restrain police from leaking to the media any probe material in relation to the FIR lodged against her. The petition, which is listed before Justice Prathiba M Singh, also seeks to restrain the media from publishing the content or extract of any private chats, including those on WhatsApp, between her and third parties.
When the matter came up for hearing in the pre-lunch session, Justice Singh said she will take it up after 2.15 pm. Ravi, in her plea, said that she is "severely aggrieved and prejudiced by the media trial surrounding her arrest and the ongoing investigation, where she is being viscerally attacked by the respondent 1 (police) and several media houses".
She also claimed that her arrest from Bengaluru on February 13 by a Cyber Cell team of Delhi Police was "wholly unlawfully and without basis". She has contended that in the present circumstances, it was "highly likely" that the general public will perceive the news items "as being conclusive as to the guilt of the petitioner (Ravi)".
"In these circumstances, and to restrain the respondents from further violating her privacy, her reputation, and her right to a fair trial, the petitioner is moving the present petition," the plea said. Her petition has alleged that investigative matters have been leaked to the media and the press briefings by the police are "prejudicial" and "grossly violative of her right to a fair trial and presumption of innocence".
"The illegal actions and omissions on part of the respondents has irrevocably violated the petitioner's fundamental right to privacy, her right to reputation, her dignity, and the consequent effect of the administration of justice and right to fair trial," the petition has said. It has claimed that the police first "leaked investigative material" — like alleged WhatsApp chats — the substance and details of which were only in the possession of the investigating agency. Thereafter, the "private alleged WhatsApp chats" were publicised and disseminated by various media houses which was a violation of the provisions of the Cable Televisions Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 (CTN Act), the Programme Code and the Uplinking and Downlinking Guidelines, the petition has contended.
It has also claimed that the "media houses have published one-sided defamatory, suggestive innuendos, and half truths about the petitioner". Ravi's plea has further contended that the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and the News Broadcasting Standards Authority "have failed to exercise their statutory and self-regulatory powers in ensuring compliance with the Programme Code under the CTN Act and the Code of Ethics of National Broadcasting Standards Association".
Delhi Police, probing the "toolkit Google doc" backing the farmers' agitation shared by climate activist Greta Thunberg, had arrested Ravi while Mumbai lawyer Jacob and Pune engineer Shantanu Muluk have been granted pre-arrest bail by court. A Delhi court had on February 14 sent Ravi to five day police custody after the agency said her custodial interrogation was required to probe an alleged larger conspiracy against the government of India and to ascertain her alleged role relating to the Khalistan movement.
While seeking her custody, the police had told the court that the activist had allegedly edited the toolkit and many other people were involved in the matter. A toolkit is a document created to explain any issue. It also provides information on what one needs to do to address the issue. This might include information about petitions, details about protests and mass movements.
Delhi Police had earlier asked Google and some social media giants to provide information about email ID, URLs and certain social media accounts related to the creators of the toolkit shared by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg and others on Twitter in connection with the farmers' protest. The Cyber Cell had lodged an FIR against "pro-Khalistan" creators of the toolkit for waging a "social, cultural and economic war against the government of India".
The case against unnamed persons was registered on charges of criminal conspiracy, sedition and various other sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The toolkit was aimed at spreading disaffection and ill-will against the government of India and creating disharmony among various social, religious and cultural groups, the police had claimed.