New Delhi: The Bombay High Court Tuesday stayed two FIRs filed against Arnab Goswami, the editor-in-chief of Republic TV, over alleged defamatory statements made against Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi and ‘communalising‘ a gathering of migrant workers in Mumbai’s Bandra in April.
The high court bench, comprising Justices Ujjal Bhuyan and Riyaz I. Chagla, observed: “We cannot have the spectacle of a Damocles’ sword hanging over the head of a journalist while conducting a public debate.”
The court also said no coercive steps will be taken against Goswami until his petition against the two FIRs is finally disposed of.
“India is now a mature democracy. Seventy years into our republic we cannot be seen to be skating on thin ice so much so that mere mention of a place of worship will lead to animosity or hatred amongst religious communities causing upheaval and conflagration on the streets. Subscribing to such a view would stifle all legitimate discussions and debates in the public domain,” the court noted.
The second FIR was filed by Irfan Abubakar Shaikh, secretary of the Raza Educational Welfare Society, and accuses Goswami of creating communal disturbance over the gathering of migrant workers in Bandra.
The Supreme Court had last month refused to transfer the two FIRs to the CBI from the Maharashtra Police. But the apex court had quashed the multiple FIRs, except for the first one mentioned above, that were filed against the journalist in connection with the debate on the Palghar incident.
Goswami had approached the Bombay High Court demanding that the FIRs be quashed.
He has also challenged the constitutional validity of sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, resident, language etc), 153B(1) (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration) and 295A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting their religion) of the Indian Penal Code.
No prima facie case
Referring to the debate on the Palghar incident, the high court noted that Goswami was primarily targeting Gandhi and the Congress party, not referring to any particular community.
It, therefore, said that no prima facie case was made out against him.
“In such circumstances, it cannot be said that any offence has been committed by the petitioner of provoking rioting or promoting or attempting to promote, on the grounds of religion, disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different religious groups which is prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony between different religious groups or which disturbs or is likely to disturb public tranquility, thus prejudicial to national integrity,” the court observed.
For the second FIR too, the court noted that prima facie no offence has been made out against Goswami. The court said that the petitioner was only “trying to find out as to who were the people or which were the forces trying to derail or defeat the lockdown and encouraging violation of social distancing norms”.
Goswami had earlier asserted that while he did mention about the crowd gathering outside the Jama Masjid in Bandra, he would have done the same if people stood outside the Siddhivinayak temple in Mumbai city.