Supreme Court: In the petition filed by Republic TV editor Arnab Goswami, challenging the FIRs registered against him in various parts of the country for alleged defamation of Congress President Sonia Gandhi, the bench of Dr. DY Chandrachud and MR Shah, JJ has granted 3 weeks of interim protection and no coercive action against the petitioner, Arnab Goswami. He can move an anticipatory bail application in three weeks
“For a period of three weeks, the petitioner shall be protected against any coercive steps arising out of and in relation to the above FIR arising out of the telecast which took place on 21 April 2020.”
Resultantly, the Court stayed all FIRs against Arnab Goswami except one which was filed in Nagpur and which has now been transferred to Mumbai.
“further proceedings shall remain stayed, pending further orders of this Court, in respect of any other FIR or, as the case may be, criminal complaint which has been filed or which may be filed hereafter, with respect to the same incident”
Directing Mumbai Police Commissioner to provide security to Arnab Goswami and Republic TV, the Court said,
“In addition to the personal security provided to the petitioner, if a request is made by the petitioner to the Commissioner of Police, Mumbai for providing adequate security at the residence of the petitioner or at the studio of Republic TV in Mumbai, such a request shall be expeditiously considered and, based on the threat perception, police protection shall be provided, if considered appropriate and for the period during which the threat perception continues.”
The Court kept the following considerations kept in mind while granting the abovementioned relief to Arnab Goswami:
- The need to ensure that the criminal process does not assume the character of a vexatious exercise by the institution of multifarious complaints founded on the same cause in multiple States;
- The need for the law to protect journalistic freedom within the ambit of Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution;
- The requirement that recourse be taken to the remedies available to every citizen in accordance with the Code of Criminal Procedure 1973;
- Ensuring that in order to enable the citizen to pursue legal remedies, a protection of personal liberty against coercive steps be granted for a limited duration in the meantime;
- The investigation of an FIR should be allowed to take place in accordance with law without this Court deploying its jurisdiction under Article 32 to obstruct the due process of law; and
- Assuaging the apprehension of the petitioner of 7 a threat to his safety and the safety of his business establishment.
During the hearing, Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Maharashtra, told the Court
“You are creating communal violence by citing such statements, if FIRs have been registered, how can you quash it at this stage? Let the people be investigated, what is wrong in it?”
Advocate Vivek Tankha, appearing for Chhattisgarh Government, sought for a restraint order on Arnab Goswami from making such statements.
Justice Chandrachud said,
“Speaking for myself I believe there should be no restraint on the media. I am averse to imposing any restrictions on media”.
Goswami had attacked Sonia Gandhi in one of his shows on Republic TV and had claimed that she had orchestrated the Palghar lynching in Maharashtra, where 3 Hindu religious leaders, who were on their way to Silvassa on April 16, were lynched by local residents on the suspicion that they were thieves. He questioned Sonia Gandhi’s silence over the incident and asked if she would have been quite if Muslim or Christian religious leaders would have been lynched instead of Hindu leaders.
After the incident was given a communal angle, Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh shared the list of 101 people taken into custody in connection with the lynching, and said none of those arrested were Muslim. Goswami later attacked Congress for orchestrating an attack on him and his wife in Mumbai after they were returning from work.
[Arnab Ranjan Goswami v. Union of India, WRIT PETITION(CRIMINAL) Diary No(s).11006/2020, order dated 24.04.2020]