Supreme Court: In a relief to journalist Vinod Dua, the 3-judge bench of  U U Lalit, M M Shantanagoudar and Vineet Saran, JJ, in a special hearing on Sunday restrained the Himachal Pradesh police from arresting him till July 6 in a sedition case lodged against him in the state over his Youtube show. The Court said that Dua will have to join the investigation and there shall be no stay on the ongoing probe undertaken by the Himachal Pradesh police. It also issued notices to the Centre and the state government and sought their responses within two weeks.

Here’ what the Court directed:

(a) Pending further orders, the petitioner shall not be arrested in connection with the present crime;

(b) However, the petitioner in terms of the offer made by him in his communication dated 12.06.2020, shall extend full cooperation through Video Conferencing or Online mode; and

(c) The Himachal Pradesh Police shall be entitled to carry on the investigation including interrogation of the petitioner at his residence after giving him prior notice of 24 hours and complying with the Social Distancing norms prescribed during Covid-19 Pandemic.

The Court further directed that the affidavit in reply filed on behalf of the State shall indicate the steps taken during investigation and a complete Status Report shall be filed before the next date of hearing.

“The concerned Investigating Officer shall remain personally present in case the open Court hearing is resumed by this Court or shall be available in case the proceedings are taken up through Video Conferencing mode.”

Senior advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for Dua, not only sought staying of the FIR rather demanded its quashing, saying the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression of the journalist has been taken away by filing of the sedition case.

” if such charges are slapped against individuals then many of them may fall within the ambit of sedition charges.”

He said that petitioner is willing to show the video clip of the show to the court.

Granting interim relief, the bench said that it was not going into the details of the matter and will also not stay the probe.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre and the state government, accepted the notice and said he would file the reply in two weeks.

The Delhi High Court had earlier stayed an investigation into another case against Dua in connection with his show on YouTube. The police in Shimla had summoned him for questioning over a sedition complaint by a local BJP leader. Like the complaint lodged in the national capital, the FIR registered against the senior journalist in Shimla is also over his YouTube show on communal riots in Delhi earlier this year. According to the complaint, he had accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of using “deaths and terror attacks” to get votes.

Dua has been charged under sections 124A (sedition), 268 (public nuisance), 501 (printing matter known to be defamatory) and 505 (statements conducive to public mischief) on the basis of a complaint last month by BJP’s Mahasu unit president Ajay Shyam.

On Thursday, Dua was sent a notice asking him to appear before the police in Shimla. Himachal Pradesh police personnel had arrived at his Delhi home on Friday morning to serve the notice. In his reply to the notice, Dua said he cannot visit Kumarsain police station because of his health, age and the COVID-19 protocol for travel and quarantine.

BJP leader Ajay Shyam had complained that Dua made bizarre allegations on his 15-minute YouTube show on March 30. The BJP leader alleged that Dua had instigated violence against the government and the prime minister by spreading false and malicious news.

On Wednesday, the Delhi High Court had stayed till June 23 an investigation into a similar case filed by BJP spokesperson Naveen Kumar.

The court had said there was an unexplained delay of nearly three months in filing the complaint.

[Vinod Dua v. Union of India, Writ Petition (Criminal) No.154/2020, order dated 14.062020]

(With inputs from PTI)

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