Allahabad High Court, on Wednesday, quashed the FIR registered against Siddharth Varadarajan, the founding editor of The Wire, and journalist Ismat Ara for reporting on the death of a protesting farmer amid the violence that broke out in New Delhi on January 26, 2021.
“This court is of the view that since the allegations made in the FIR do not disclose the commissioning of offences under Sections 153-B and 505 (2) IPC, therefore, it is not sustainable in the eyes of law and is liable to be quashed,” read the court order.
The FIR was filed over a story written by Ara, and tweeted by herself as well as Varadarajan. According to the piece, the deceased farmer’s grandfather, Hardeep Singh Dibdibiya, had said that one of the doctors who conducted the post-mortem on his grandson had informed him that he had died from a bullet wound.
Severe violence broke out on Republic Day 2021 during a rally of thousands of farmers, who were protesting the Farm Bills 2020, when they deviated from the permitted rally route, broke barricades, entered the capital city, and stormed the Red Fort. Following a heated confrontation with the police, farmer Navreet Singh was killed, while several others, as well as some police officials, were injured.
Later, Rampur police had shared a statement, according to which, the doctors involved in Singh’s post-mortem had denied speaking “to the media or any other person” or provide any such information.
Claiming that The Wire’s report had “misled people” and that the article had incited anger among those living in the area, giving rise to tension, an FIR was registered by the Uttar Pradesh Police, based on a complaint from a resident of Rampur 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.
In November, the Allahabad High Court had granted interim protection from arrest to both Varadarajan and Ara, based on the directions of the Supreme Court. The apex court had also directed the duo to approach the High Court if they wanted the FIR quashed.
While revoking the FIR, the High Court order also stated, “Nothing was also brought before this court to indicate that there was any disturbance or riot which may have any bearing on public disorder on account of the publication of news/tweet of the petitioners.”
“The aforesaid news items do not disclose that any opinion was expressed by the petitioners with consequences thereof. Therefore, this Court does not find any opinion or assertion on the part of the petitioners which may have the effect of provoking or inciting the people,” added the order.