Bombay HC stays FIRs against Arnab Goswami

Bombay HC suspended proceedings in the matter of two FIRs filed against him for communalising the coverage of the Palghar mob lynching incident and gathering of migrants outside Bandra station

Arnab Goswami

The Bombay High Court stayed both FIRs filed against Republic TV editor Arnab Goswami on June 30, observing, “We cannot have a Damocles sword hanging over the head of a journalist while conducting a public debate”, Live Law reported. The proceedings in the matter of the two FIRs filed against Goswami for allegedly communalising the Palghar mob lynching and the gathering of migrant labourers outside Bandra station during the lockdown while covering these matters in his news debates, were suspended by the Court.

Live Law reported that a division bench of Justice Ujjal Bhyan and Justice Riyaz Chagla observed “prima facie no case was made out against him” and ordered that no coercive action be taken against him in the matter.

Palghar mob lynching incident coverage

The bench observed, “Prima facie, it appears that petitioner as a media journalist had questioned the response or rather the alleged non-response of the Congress party and its President Smt. Sonia Gandhi to the killing of two Hindu saints juxtaposing this with the question as to whether the Congress party or Smt. Sonia Gandhi would have kept quiet if any Maulvi or Padri was killed. Thereafter petitioner made allegations against the foreign origin of Smt. Sonia Gandhi”.

“It is quite clear that the object of or the target of the petitioner’s attack was primarily Smt. Sonia Gandhi and the Congress party. There was no mentioning of either the Muslim community or the Christian community. It would be too farfetched to say that two religious communities were involved in the debate. As a matter of fact, there was no reference to the Muslim community or to the Christian community”, the court said.

In such circumstances, the Court added, it cannot be said that any offence has been committed by the petitioner of rioting or making imputations prejudicial to national integration or acting deliberately with malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of citizens of India. Petitioner having been named as the sole accused, there can also be no question of any criminal conspiracy, the Court mentioned.

It added, “A view may be taken that the language of the petitioner was quite sharp and vicious; it may also be construed as an act of defaming the Congress party or its President. But as pointed out by the Supreme Court, the offence of criminal defamation would be excluded from the purview of investigation of the present FIR because the said offence can only be taken cognizance of by a Magistrate on a complaint, that too, instituted by the person aggrieved.”

Bandra station incident coverage

The court said, “On an overall reading of the FIR, statement of the informant and transcript of the broadcast, it would be wrong to say that petitioner had made the statements in the broadcast with a view to defame or insult the feelings of any religious group or community.”

It added, “Though the petitioner stated as a matter of fact that the crowd had gathered near the Jama Masjid, Bandra, he clarified his statement by saying that if such an incident had taken place outside a temple, he would have said the same thing. In such circumstances, to allege or impute any communal motive to what the petitioner had commented would be a distortion of the narrative. Prima facie, no offence as alleged can be said to have been committed by the petitioner.”

The court suspended the FIRs saying, “We cannot have the spectacle of a Damocles’ sword hanging over the head of a journalist while conducting a public debate. India is now a mature democracy. Seventy years into our republic we cannot be seen to be skating on thin ice so much so that mere mention of a place of worship will lead to animosity or hatred amongst religious communities causing upheaval and conflagration on the streets. Subscribing to such a view would stifle all legitimate discussions and debates in the public domain.”

Prior to this, the Supreme Court had reserved orders on Republic TV Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami’s writ petition seeking quashing of the FIR filed against communalising of the Bandra migrant gathering while also seeking directions that the probe be transferred to the CBI. Goswami had filed this writ petition as he continues to enjoy the Supreme Court granted protection from coercive action, in the previous case, wherein over 100 FIRs were filed against him across the country for allegedly defaming Congress party President Sonia Gandhi in connection with the Palghar lynching case.


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