The Supreme Court heard a plea filed by Republic TV’s editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami to quash 100-plus FIRs that were filed against him in various parts of the country on Friday, and granted him protection from arrest for a period of three weeks. The court stated that no coercive action must be taken against Goswami. The matter was heard by Justices DY Chandrachud and MR Shah.
FIRs were filed against the news anchor in Maharashtra, Telangana, Jammu and Kashmir, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh over comments he made against Congress chief Sonia Gandhi on his show about the Palghar lynching incident, where two Hindu seers and their driver were beaten to death on April 16. They were traveling in a car and when they stopped near a village in Palghar district, and were lynched on the suspicion that they were child lifters.
On his show, Goswami questioned why Congress President Sonia Gandhi was not speaking up on the incident, and if she would have remained silent if the people who died were not Hindu but Christian. Furthermore, he said that the Congress chief must feel happy that “Hindu sants were killed in a state ruled by the Congress.” The comments were widely criticised, following which the FIRs were filed.
At least 16 complaints were filed against Goswami, FIRs were filed against for various sections including for Section 153 (promoting enmity between different groups), 295A (promoting enmity, Deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs) and 500 (defamation) of the Indian Penal Code.
On Friday, the SC said that proceedings on all FIRs will be stayed except one FIR filed in Nagpur. This will be moved to the NM Joshi Marg Police Station in Mumbai. Any FIR that is filed in the matter after this will also remain stayed till further orders. The matter will be heard after eight weeks.
In the next three weeks, Goswami will have to move a plea for anticipatory bail before the trial court to extend his protection, or take other measures that are available to him under the law.
Advocate Mukul Rohatgi, who represented Goswami, told the court that this is an assault on his right to freedom of speech and expression, and that the idea behind multiple FIRs is to muzzle the freedom of the press. Rohatgi maintained that on the show, Goswami was talking about peace and questioned the Maharashtra government and highlighted police inaction. ”There is no religious angle,” he said.
In his plea to the court, Arnab Goswami called the FIRs ”false, vindictive, frivolous, malicious, precipitated with malice, untenable in law and have been filed with mala-fide intent by the Congress activists to coerce, harass and intimidate him in order to muzzle the media and in particular him, from carrying these news reports and conducting investigative journalism to bring the truth before the public."