Republic Day Violence: Supreme Court stays arrests of Tharoor, Sardesai and five others

Though the SC bench was initially reluctant to grant protection, Adv Kapil Sibal convinced them saying that police from various states could arrest the petitioners from their homes
The Supreme Court of India
The Supreme Court of India

The Supreme Court of India has issued an order staying the arrest of Congress leader and Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor, journalists Rajdeep Sardesai, Vinod K Jose, Anant Nath, Paresh Nath, Mrinal Pande and Zafar Agha over the multiple FIRs filed against them over tweets/news reports of a farmer’s death during the Republic Day violence.

Reportedly, during the hearing, a bench headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde said that the bench will issue notice on the petitions. Senior lawyer Kapil Sibal, representing the petitioners, requested the Supreme Court bench to grant interim protection to petitioners from coercive action. Though the bench was initially reluctant to grant protection, Sibal convinced them saying that police from various states could arrest the petitioners from their homes.

Following this, CJI Bobde asked Solicitor General of India (SGI) Tushar Mehta, who was representing the Delhi Police, if the petitioners would be taken into custody.

Mehta opposed relief to the petitioners and asked the Chief Justice of India to adjourn the Court till tomorrow. The Chief Justice replied, “Not tomorrow. We will have it after two weeks. We will stay the arrest.” He also asked the Solicitor General if he can make a statement for all the states (Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh) involved in the case.

(FROM PREVIOUS STORY) A few days following the Republic Day violence that rocked the national capital, Noida Police booked Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, TV anchor Rajdeep Sardesai, group editor of National Herald Mrinal Pande, chief editor of Quami Awaz Zafar Agha and editors of The Caravan magazine Paresh Nath, Anant Nath and Vinod K Jose for sedition on January 28.

An FIR was filed against them stating that they shared misinformation, “inciting violence” on Republic Day.

Social activist Arpit Mishra filed the FIR, alleging that the “digital broadcast” and “social media posts” by the accused promoted the violence in Delhi. He filed the FIR at the Sector 20 police station, under section 154 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC). The FIR includes Indian Penal Code (IPC) sections 124A (sedition), 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, etc), 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace), 298 (utterings, words, etc., with deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of any person), 506 (criminal intimidation), 120B (criminal conspiracy), as well as section 66 of the Information Technology Act among others.

The FIR says the accused acted in “prejudice”, which put national safety and people’s lives in jeopardy. “These people deliberately made malicious, offensive, misleading and provocative statements, and tweeted…that police killed a protesting tractor driver,” it alleged. The driver was killed when his tractor toppled over and postmortem had ruled out any bullet injuries.

The FIR also stated that the accused persons have “instigated violence” on January 26 through their posts on social media. It said that despite the large-scale attack on the police causing injuries to hundreds of policemen, the accused persons circulated fake news in a coordinated and well-planned manner alleging that the police have shot a person dead.

“It was done deliberately so that it causes a large-scale riot and communal violence among various communities,” the FIR alleged. It also said that their tweets led to the hoisting of the religious flag and other flags at Red Fort in place of the tricolour. “This act of theirs tried to build insurrection against the Indian Republic and tried to sow the seeds of enmity, violence and create a riot-like situation between communities,” the FIR further stated.

Sardesai in his tweet had said, “One person, 45-year-old Navneet killed allegedly in police firing at ITO. Farmers tell me: the ‘sacrifice’ will not go in vain.”

Although Sardesai had retracted his statement, the India Today Group took him off the air and deducted his salary for a month as part of a disciplinary move over a false tweet.

Sardesai had announced on live television that the man who died during the farmers’ tractor rally on Republic Day had been “shot”. He had also tweeted the same before the broadcast. However, police note that there is “video proof” indicating that the farmer “had died when he fell from his tractor” and not by gunshot.

While Anant Nath, Paresh Nath, Sardesai and Pande did not respond to comments, Vinod said, “Our lawyers are looking into it. Our reporters were on the ground, and had eyewitness on camera.” Zafar Agha said, “I heard about it. Unless I speak to my legal people I can’t comment,” as Tharoor declined to comment.

Meanwhile, the Bhopal Police have also registered a case against Tharoor, Sardesai, Zafar, Anant, Pande, Paresh, and Vinod under IPC section 153A for circulating fake news concerning the death of the farmer. The complaint, according to Bhopal Police, was filed by Sanjay Raghuwanshi, a farmer in Bhopal.

On January 26, thousands of protesting farmers had clashed with police during the tractor rally in protest against the centre’s farm laws. The tractor rally was permitted to start after the Republic Day parade in the national capital ended. The rally, however, turned chaotic as farmers broke through the barricade and changed the agreed route. Many of the protesters, driving tractors, reached the Red Fort and entered the monument. Some protesters even hoisted religious flags on its domes and the flagstaff at the ramparts, where the national flag is unfurled by the Prime Minister on Independence Day. The violence at Red Fort led to hundreds of police personnel getting injured, and a farmer dying due to his tractor overturning.

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