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While various other mainstream news outlets also carried articles and news pieces on the concerned subjects, the police registered FIRs only against the petitioners, the plea filed in the Supreme Court states.
The Supreme Court today stayed three First Information Reports (FIRs) registered in West Bengal against online publication OpIndia's editors and writers including Nupur Sharma and Ajeet Bharti.
A Vacation Bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and BR Gavai took up the plea filed by OpIndia editor Nupur Sharma and three others via video conferencing today. While staying the FIRs under challenge, the Court also issued notice to the State of West Bengal.
The petitioners have also sought for exclusion of the police in matters concerning deletion of content on the internet, stating that there already exists a regulatory mechanism for overseeing such content as per Section 69A of the Information Technology Act (IT Act).
Three FIRs were filed against the petitioners in relation to different stories carried by the OpIndia platform, one of which is eight months old, the plea states. While various other mainstream news outlets also carried articles and news pieces on the concerned subjects, the police registered FIRs only against the petitioners. Thus, the registration of the FIRs amounts to brute force, the plea states.
It is the petitioners' claim that the "authoritarian Kolkata police" has resorted to using the registration of FIRs as a way to "intimidate journalists" in order to seek deletion of online content and reports that shine a light on the state of affairs in West Bengal.
The police's action is one aimed at scuttling and muzzling free speech and the notices issued under Section 414 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) are done with the intention to harass the petitioners, the plea further goes on to allege. It adds that the police has refused to supply a copy of the FIRs to the petitioners or even upload the same on its website, despite several requests made for the same.
The state has "blatantly misused" the powers of the police under the CrPC to "scuttle bonafide instances of journalism" that may inconvenience the state and its political executive, the petitioners say. Contravention of Articles 19(1)(a) and 21 of the Constitution of India is claimed.
The petition details the particulars of the articles pursuant to which FIRs were registered. Details of notices issued to the petitioners by the police, as well as the investigation conducted pursuant to these notices is also detailed. It highlights that even family members of the petitioners were questioned by the police.
Moreover, the plea alleges that the police directed the petitioners to take down certain content from their platform as well as from social media platform Twitter, failing which the petitioners would be arrested. This alleged sequence of events amounts to extortion, the plea states.
The third FIR, it is averred, is in connection to a news item that is eight months old and does not make out the ingredients of the offences alleged by the police. Further, a news report on the same was published by other outlets, but action taken only against the petitioners.
Claiming to be victims of the extra-constitutional design of the State of West Bengal, the petitioners approached the Supreme Court to quash the FIRs.
The petitioners were represented by Senior Advocate Mahesh Jethmalani along with Advocates Sandeep Kapur, Siya Chaudhary, and Madhulika Rai Sharma. The petition was filed through Advocate Ravi Sharma.