The Allahabad High Court has granted interim protection from arrest to Siddharth Varadarajan, the founding editor of The Wire, and reporter Ismat Ara in the FIR registered against them for reporting on the death of a protesting farmer during the violence that broke out in New Delhi on January 26, reported Live Law.
Severe violence had broken out on Republic Day during a rally by thousands of farmers, who were protesting the Farm Bills 2020, when they deviated from the permitted rally route, broke barricades and entered the capital city to storm the Red Fort. In the ensuing confrontation with the police, one of the farmers (Navreet Singh) was killed, while several others as well as some policemen were left injured.
Following the incident, Ara wrote a story, that was tweeted by both herself and Varadarajan, in which the deceased farmer’s grandfather Hardeep Singh Dibdibiya had allegedly said that one of the doctors conducting a post-mortem on his grandson had informed him that he had died from a bullet wound.
Later, the Rampur police had tweeted a statement, according to which, the doctors involved in Navreet Singh’s post-mortem had denied speaking “to the media or any other person” or providing any such information.
Claiming that The Wire report “mislead people” and that the article led to anger among the common people in the area and gave rise to tension, an FIR was registered by the Uttar Pradesh Police based on a complaint by a Rampur resident named Sanju Turaiha, under sections 153B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration) and 505(2) (statements creating or promoting enmity between classes) of the Indian Penal Code.
On September 8, the Supreme Court had asked the publication, along with three of its reporters, to approach the High Court for quashing the FIR registered against them for the news reports published them on the issue, including the article tweeted by Varadarajan and Ara. The Supreme Court also granted them two months protection from arrest and had said, “We are aware of fundamental rights and don’t want freedom of the press to be muzzled.”
Following this, Varadarajan and Ara had moved the Allahabad High Court seeking to quash the FIR and the court has now granted them interim protection. The court has also called for a counter-affidavit from the Uttar Pradesh government in the case within three weeks.
The matter will next be heard on November 24 along with the writ petition filed by the Foundation for Independent Journalism, which owns The Wire, regarding a similar case on the publication’s reportage of the attack on the old Muslim man in Ghaziabad.