No fetter can be put on freedom of press by booking journalist: High Court

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The Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh High Court on Tuesday quashed an FIR registered against a reporter in 2018 for publishing a story on custodial torture by the police, Bar and Bench reported.

According to the report, justiceRajnesh Oswal held that the mode and manner in which the FIR was registered clearly reflects mala fides on the part of the police, who chose a “unique method” of silencing the reporter.

Terming the same as an attack on the freedom of the press, the High Court held,

“Needless to say that press is often referred to as the fourth pillar of democracy and freedom of the press is vital for the functioning of any democratic country like India. No fetters can be placed on the freedom of press by registering the FIR against a reporter, who was performing his professional duty by publishing a news item on the basis of information obtained by him from an identifiable source.”

The petitioner, Asif Iqbal Naik is a journalist associated with local daily Early Times Newspaper and Times Now, and had broken down various stories of national importance.

Naik had published a story in April 2018 bearing the heading “Father of 5 brutally tortured by Kishtwar Police,” in which it was reported that one Akhter Hussain was tortured by the police during illegal confinement, owing to which he was in a critical condition.

On the basis of this story, an FIR was registered against Naik by the Kishtwar Police alleging the commission of offences under Sections 500 (defamation), 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace) and 505 (statement conducting to public mischief) of the Ranbir Penal Code (RPC).

Counsel for the petitioner, Advocate FS Butt submitted that the FIR was lodged to harass the petitioner so as to stop him from publishing any news item against the police establishment and to gag the press and electronic media. This amounts to infringement of the right to free speech and expression as guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution of India, he argued.

The Court said that the publication of the news item on the basis of a statement made by the cousin of the person who was tortured does not amount to an offence under Section 499 RPC as the petitioner performed his professional duty of reporting the matter.

So far as allegations with regard to the commission of offence under Section 504 RPC was concerned, the Court held there was no allegation that the petitioner had provoked anyone to breach public peace or commit any other offence.

With regard to the charge under Section 505, the Court held,

Prima facie there is nothing in the FIR that the petitioner desired to generate the consequences as claimed by the respondents and rather he has performed his professional duty.”

Accordingly, the Court quashed the FIR registered against Naik.

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