On May 25, 2022, the Allahabad High Court quashed the First Information Report (FIR) registered against The Wire’s founding editor Siddharth Varadarajan and reporter Ismat Ara in Rampur over a report on the death of a protester in New Delhi during the farmers protest on Republic Day 2021, reported LiveLaw.
The FIR was registered against them under IPC sections 153B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration) and 505(2) (statements creating or promoting enmity between classes) for tweeting a story on Navreet Singh Dibdibiya, the deceased protester.
A division bench comprising Justices Ashwani Kumar Mishra and Rajnish Kumar held, “Since the allegations made in the FIR does not disclose the commissioning of offences under Sections 153-B and 505 (2) IPC, therefore, it is not sustainable in the eyes of law and is liable to be quashed. The FIR is accordingly quashed.”
According to the Court, “For constituting an offence against a person under Section 153-B IPC there should be words either spoken or written or signs or visible representations by a person on account of which any class of persons cannot by reason of their being members of any religious, racial, language or regional group or caste or community, bear true faith and allegiance to the constitution of India or uphold the sovereignty and integrity of India or on account of various factors mentioned therein be denied or deprived of their rights as citizens of India or such assertion, counsel, plea or appeal causes or likely to cause disharmony or feelings of enmity or hatred or ill will between such members and other persons.”
The Court further held, “For constituting an offence under Section 505 (2) IPC, it refers to a person making, publishing or circulating any statement or report containing rumour or alarming news. Thereafter, it refers to the intent of the person which should be to create or promote and then refers to the harm-based element, that is, likely to create or promote on the ground of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, cast, etc., feeling of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different religions, racial language, religious groups or castes or communities, etc. Unless the aforesaid ingredients are fulfilled the offences under sections 153-B and 505 (2) can not be made out.”
The bench finally concluded, “The aforesaid news items does not disclose that any opinion was expressed by the petitioners with consequences thereof, therefore this Court does not find any opinion or assertion on the part of the petitioners which may have the effect of provocating or inciting the people. Nothing was also brought before this court to indicate that there was any disturbance or riot which may have any bearing on public disorder on account of the publication of news/ tweet of the petitioners.”
Brief background of the case
Ismat Ara had interviewed Hardeep Singh Dibdibiya, the deceased protester Navreet’s grandfather, who claimed that he had been told by a doctor that the young man “died due to a bullet injury” and the since “his (doctor’s) hands were tied, he could not do anything.” The Wire’s editor Siddharth Varadarajan, has been regularly named in complaints and FIRs have been lodged against him in Uttar Pradesh. The FIR, lodged at Rampur’s Civil Lines police station in February 2021, was based on a complaint filed by one Sanju Turaiha, a resident of Rampur in Uttar Pradesh. Varadarajan was charged under Sections 153B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration) and 505(2) (statements creating or promoting enmity between classes) of the IPC. It was alleged that social media posts allegedly “misled people” on the death of Navreet Singh Dibdibiya, a protester in New Delhi on Republic Day in New Delhi.
However, according to the LiveLaw report, the Rampur police had tweeted a statement saying that the doctors involved in Navreet Singh’s post-mortem had denied that they had spoken “to the media or any other person” or had provided any such information as is being attributed to them in the media.
In September 2021, the Supreme Court had asked The Wire and three of its reporters to approach the High Court for quashing the FIR registered against them over news reports published/written by them (including the instant article tweeted by Siddharth Varadarajan and Ismat Ara). The journalists of the news website The Wire were granted two months of interim protection from any coercive action by the Supreme Court in September. The portal, and three of its journalists were named in three separate First Information Reports (FIR) in districts Rampur, Barabanki and Ghaziabad.
Later in November 2021, the Allahabad High Court bench of Justice Mahesh Chandra Tripathi and Justice Subhash Vidyarthi granted them interim protection from arrest.