The Supreme Court on Tuesday pulled up the Himachal Pradesh Police for failing to file the investigation reports pertaining to the sedition case filed against journalist Vinod Dua, legal news website BarandBench.com has reported.
The court has now directed the police to place the details on record in a sealed cover.
The case will be heard for final disposal next week. The police is required to submit the relevant investigation details to the court by Monday, July 13.
The Bench of Justices UU Lalit, Mohan M Shantanagoudar, and Vineet Saran took up the plea filed by veteran journalist Vinod Dua seeking protection from coercive action in relation to an FIR filed against him in Shimla, Himachal Pradesh.
At the start of today's hearing, Senior Advocate Vikas Singh, representing Dua, termed the police interrogation as harassment. He claimed that Dua received the same questions from the police on multiple occasions, and that the police has refused to furnish details of the complaint.
Claiming that Dua was a "responsible journalist" with a standing of around 45 years in the profession, Singh said that he had the right to criticise the government under the guaranteed freedom of speech and expression. This right was being affected on account of police's action against him, Singh submitted.
Singh cited the Supreme Court's recent order in the plea filed by anchor Amish Devgan, who was successful in securing interim protection from the Supreme Court. The court's order staying the FIRs filed against OpIndia's Nupur J Sharma and three others was also cited by Singh.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, however, sought to argue that the cases and their facts are very different, and as such, stand on different footing. Singh, however, rebutted and said: "All these cases fall under the ambit of Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution and deal with freedom of speech and expression."
Singh argued that while Dua faces sedition charges merely for criticising the government of the day, the judgment in Kedarnath Singh case had held that "sedition is when you incite violence or create public disorder."
While Mehta sought for a deferment in the hearing, the court asked the Himachal Pradesh Police why there was delayed action on its part. The Court said, "This (program in question) was supposed to have telecast on March 30 and the complaint was filed on April 23... There was a delay of 24 days. On May 11, you (police) say notice under Section 91 (of CrPC) was obtained from crime branch and then, on June 11, you write a letter to the news media house. What happened from May 11 to June 11? This shows your seriousness about the investigation."
The court then proceeded to list the matter for final disposal in the next week, stating that the proceedings may be quashed by the court if the contentions raised by Dua are found to be correct.
In the meantime, the police was directed to place the investigation papers and other relevant material in a sealed cover before the court's Registry by July 13.
Dua has also been given the liberty to not answer the questionnaire sent by the police in the meantime. The interim protection against arrest shall continue till further orders.
Last month, the apex court held a special hearing on a Sunday to hear Dua's plea. While the court had refused to stay the FIR accusing Dua of sedition, directions were passed granting him protection from arrest.
The court had said that the FIR could not be stayed at that stage. It was also ordered that the Himachal Pradesh Police could question the journalist at his Delhi residence, only after giving him prior notice of 24 hours.
Dua is accused of having made certain statements in his YouTube program, the Vinod Dua Show, which allegedly incited communal hatred and led to a breach of peace and communal disharmony.
An FIR accusing Dua of sedition was filed in Shimla. In June, Dua was summoned to appear before the Himachal Pradesh Police for questioning, prompting him to move the Supreme Court for relief.
As per a post uploaded on social media, the police had turned up on Dua's doorstep to serve him a notice to appear before the Kumarsain Police Station the next day.
In his plea, Dua had termed the FIR bogus and argued that the police was proceeding against him in the most malicious manner.
In this regard, Dua pointed out that his physical presence was demanded after 35 days of the FIR's registration in a remote place at Himachal Pradesh on a Saturday, "when majority of Delhi is in containment zone and the Himachal Pradesh by its own orders has compulsorily ordered quarantine for 14 days as per its guidelines for any of its state guests." The petition was filed on June 13.
As far as the video under scrutiny is concerned, Dua notes that he had done a "critical analysis of the failure of the Union of India in conducting the nationwide (COVID-19) lockdown and the manner it was implemented."
"There was nothing in the video which could be remotely termed to be criminal," Dua argues, adding that "During the video, he also mentioned the politicizing of army attack during the last elections."