New Delhi, 3 June 2021 – The Supreme Court of India quashed (or threw out, in plain English) the sedition case registered against senior journalist Vinod Dua in Himachal Pradesh. The verdict was given by a bench led by Justice UU Lalit on Dua’s petition seeking the quashing of the case registered against him in connection with a YouTube video in which he criticized the Modi government’s handling of the Covid-19 lockdown last year.
The bench accepted Vinod Dua’s defense based on the principles of the Kedar Nath judgment of the Supreme Court in 1962. The court acknowledged the journalist’s statement referring to its own judgment on sedition and freedom of expression concerning his statements in the video. “If read in the light of the principles emanating,” from the judgment, and, “against the backdrop of the circumstances when they were made, can at best be termed as [an] expression of disapprobation of actions of the Government and its functionaries so that prevailing situation could be addressed quickly and efficiently.”
The court maintained that to prosecute Vinod Dua for the alleged offenses would violate his rights of freedom of speech and expression. The bench relied extensively on the principles outlined in the Kedar Nath judgment to give relief to him. While the Kedar Nath judgment upheld the constitutional validity of sedition law in India, it nevertheless held that free speech, discussions on matters of government functioning and their criticism, and freedom of press are, “Essential for the proper functioning of the processes of popular government.”
The bench also said and made clear that every journalist will be entitled to protection under the judgment, saying, “It must, however, be clarified that every Journalist will be entitled to protection in terms of Kedar Nath Singh, as every prosecution under Sections 124A (sedition) and 505 (publishing or circulating rumor) of the IPC must be in strict conformity with the scope and ambit of said Sections as explained in, and completely in tune with the law laid down in Kedar Nath Singh.”
The Supreme Court’s verdict of 3 June 2021 in the Vinod Dua case a few days after another bench of the court decided to examine the sedition law and its interpretation in the light of free speech and media rights. Thursday’s verdict comes days after another apex court bench decided to examine the interpretation of sedition law, particularly in the light of media rights and free speech.
Vinod Dua suggesting for a special procedural appeal
Journalists have documented the routine violation of the law by district magistrates and police who arrest citizens and journalists without pressing charges or producing them in court within any reasonable time. This has also been said in public by Supreme Court justices in public lectures in recent years.
Vinod Dua had suggested a special procedural plea to restrain police from registering sedition cases against any media personnel with ten years’ experience unless cleared by a committee comprising the Chief Justice of the state high court or a judge designated by him, the leader of the opposition, and the home minister of the state. The Supreme Court bench rejected this plea, saying that to allow such a plea would be directly encroaching the domain of the legislature. What the court didn’t say was that this complex procedural plea would also have put senior journalists above citizens.