The Supreme Court on Friday protected senior journalist and Padma Shri awardee Vinod Dua from arrest till further orders in a sedition case registered by the Himachal Pradesh Police for his telecast on the Delhi riots in February. In an urgently convened virtual court hearing on Sunday, a three-judge Bench led by Justice U. U. Lalit agreed to Mr. Dua’s terms to the police that he would join the investigation through videoconferencing or online mode, keeping in mind travel restrictions imposed amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The Bench, also comprising Justices Mohan M. Shantanagoudar and Vineet Saran, however, refused repeated pleas made by senior advocate Vikas Singh, for Mr. Dua, to stay the investigation. The court said Himachal Pradesh Police was “entitled to carry on the investigation, including interrogation of the petitioner [Dua] at his residence after giving him prior notice of 24 hours”. The police should comply with the social distancing norms, the apex court ordered.
The court sought a detailed status report on the investigation from the State of Himachal Pradesh by the next hearing on July 6. “The affidavit in reply filed on behalf of the State (Himachal Pradesh) shall indicate the steps taken during the investigation and a complete status report shall be filed before the next date of hearing. The Investigating Officer shall remain personally present in case the open court hearing is resumed by this court or shall be available in case the proceedings are taken up through video conferencing mode,” the order read. The court has also asked the Centre to a plea made by Mr. Dua that no FIR (First Information Report) should be registered against journalists with at least 10 years of standing unless cleared by a committee constituted by the respective State governments. These committees should comprise the Chief Justice of the High Court concerned or a Judge designated by the Chief Justice, the Leader of the Opposition, and the State Home Minister, the petition had suggested. The complaint, believed to be filed by a local Bharatiya Janata Party leader, accused Mr. Dua of spreading fake news. Besides sedition, the other charges raised against the senior journalist include causing public nuisance, printing of defamatory matter and making statements conducive to public mischief.