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The Allahabad High Court on Friday granted anticipatory bail to Siddharth Varadarajan, Editor of online news portal The Wire, in connection with the case registered against him for an allegedly defamatory news report against Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath.
The FIR was filed for remarks made in an article carried by The Wire pertaining to Yogi Adityanath's participation in a religious ceremony at the Ram Janmabhoomi site in Ayodhya on the occasion of Ram Navmi during the COVID-19 lockdown.
The FIR cited Sections 66D and 67 of the Information Technology Act, 2000, Sections 188 and 505(2) of the IPC, Section 54 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 and Section 3 of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897.
On finding that there were reasonable grounds for Varadarajan's apprehensions that he may be arrested in the case, Justice Chandra Dhari Singh has allowed Varadarajan's anticipatory bail plea.
Among other submissions, the Court was told that plainsclothes police officers had visited Varadarajan's residence on April 10, to serve him a written notice asking him to appear before the Ayodhya Police station on April 14, while the country was on COVID-19 lockdown.
Varadarajan also told the Court that he had e-mailed the concerned authorities on April 13 to inform that he was willing to cooperate with the investigation, although he would not be able personally appear in the police station given the present lockdown.
In the event of Varadharajan's arrest, the Court has now directed that he be released on bail upon furnishing a personal bond of Rs. 2 Lakhs with two sureties each of like amount.
In doing so, the Court also rejected the State's submissions that Varadarajan may flee abroad since he has a US passport.
This submission had been countered by Varadarajan's counsel, who had asserted that he is a permanent resident working in Delhi. It was added that Varadarajan had deep roots in Delhi, apart from pointing out that his immediate family is also in Delhi.
As part of the various conditions issued in today's order, the Court has also directed that Varadarajan surrender his passport before the concerned Court. He has been directed not to leave India during the pendency of the case trial, without prior permission of the Court.
Among other submissions, the Uttar Pradesh Government had also submitted earlier that since the charge sheet has been filed, the cause to press for grant of anticipatory bail did not survive and that there is no reasonable apprehension of arrest of the applicant in the instant case by the police.
This position was, however, disputed by the counsel for Varadarajan.
On Friday, the High Court also rejected this contention by the State, ruling,
Varadrajan has argued that the allegations in the FIR are completely baseless and malicious. Two FIRs were registered in the matter.
The State, on the other hand, argued that the article in question had caused confusion and communal disharmony.
While allowing the plea for anticipatory bail today, the Court has clarified that it has not made any observations on the merits of the matter. In this regard, the order notes,
"It is clarified that all the observations contained in this order are only for disposal of this anticipatory bail application and shall not affect the trial proceedings in any manner."
Allahabad High Court