Republic Day violence: SC protects Shashi Tharoor, Rajdeep Sardesai and five journalists from arrest in sedition FIRs for tweets

This is in connection with the FIRs lodged against them for their alleged ‘misleading’ tweets on the violence during the farmers’ tractor rally on January 26.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday protected Congress leader Shashi Tharoor and six journalists from arrest in multiple sedition FIRs registered against them for allegedly tweeting and sharing unverified news that a young farmer died at the hands of the police during the tractor rally on Republic Day parade.

A Bench led by Chief Justice of India Sharad A. Bobde stayed any coercive action or arrest against Mr. Tharoor, Rajdeep Sardesai, Anant Nath, Paresh Nath, Vinod K. Jose, Mrinal Pande and Zafar Agha. The Bench scheduled a hearing on merits after a fortnight.

The court issued notice to States and law enforcement authorities, including the Centre, Uttar Pradesh and the Delhi Police. The Bench noted that the petitions were covered by earlier decisions to protect Republic TV chief Arnab Goswami from arrest in a separate case.

“What wrong has been committed by them? No religious sentiments were hurt. The news was corrected,” senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, for Mr. Jose, submitted during the virtual hearing.

“They have followings in lakhs,” countered Mr. Mehta, appearing for Delhi Police.

Initially, during the hearing, senior advocate Kapil Sibal, for Mr. Tharoor and some other petitioners, insisted on the court making it clear that there would be no coercive action against the petitioners.

“Section 124A IPC (Sedition) has been added for their tweets [in the FIRs]… Protect them during the period of the notice,” Mr. Sibal urged the court.

“What is the danger?” Chief Justice Bobde asked him the reason for his apprehension of arrests.

“The investigation agency is in Delhi…” Mr. Sibal replied.

“So, are you going to arrest by the time we hear you?” Chief Justice Bobde asked Mr. Mehta.

Mr. Mehta said he was only appearing for one State. The FIRs were registered in multiple States, including Uttar Pradesh.

This led the CJI to go ahead and indicate that a stay on arrest would be necessary.

However, Mr. Mehta indicated that, in time, in the case, he would be appearing for all the authorities concerned. He said he could “talk to everybody” as regards arrest in the meanwhile.

“But what is the prejudice caused if such a statement is made [by the court]?” Mr. Sibal asked incredulously.

“We have stayed arrest,” the CJI concluded the discussion.

Mr. Tharoor and others had moved the Supreme Court against charges of sedition, promotion of enmity and criminal conspiracy levelled against them for posting “malafide, defamatory, false and misleading” tweets accusing the Delhi Police of killing a farmer during the tractor rally on Republic Day.

The FIRs, registered by Delhi and Gurugram Police and Uttar Pradesh accused them of posting instigating tweets and deliberately circulating fake news accusing the Delhi Police of the murder of a person driving a tractor during the violence on Republic Day.

“This was clearly done with an intent to engineer largescale riots and religious tension among different communities. This particularly assumes much significance as the ramifications of such riots and religious tensions would affect a sensitive State sharing international border. The accused persons have deliberately, without any authentication, fact-checking and verifying purposefully posted fake, misleading and wrong information to instigate violence amongst the protesters, the farmers community in general and to add fuel to fire in the current protest for their own political and personal advantage,” the Gurugram Police FIR read.

The FIR filed by Delhi Police stated that the accused, through their “fake, misleading and wrong” tweets “tried to imply that the death of the farmer was caused by the violence committed by Delhi Police under directions of the Central government”.

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