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Supreme Court stays arrest of journalists, Shashi Tharoor over ‘misleading’ reports and tweets

Supreme Court of India

The Supreme Court has stayed the potential arrests of Congress MP Shashi Tharoor and journalists Rajdeep Sardesai, Vinod Jose, Ananth Nath, Paresh Nath, Mrinal Pande and Zafar Agha. The apex court has also issued notice on the petitions challenging the FIRs against them, and will hear them again in two weeks, reported LiveLaw and BarandBench.

The FIR against the seven people was filed by the Delhi police and Gurgaon police for allegedly sharing unverified news about the death of a protestor during the farmers’ protest and rally on Republic Day. Similar police cases against them have been filed in Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. The FIRs had accused the seven persons of posting instigating tweets and deliberately circulating fake news, accusing the Delhi police of murdering a person, reported The Hindu last week.

Tharoor and the journalists approached the Supreme Court, seeking quashing of the FIRs, invoking their right to freedom speech and expression. A bench headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde heard the case on Tuesday. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta reportedly asked the Bench to hear the case the next day, to which Chief Justice Bobde said: “We will hear it after two weeks. We will stay arrest in the meanwhile.”

Mukul Rohtagi, representing the editors of The Caravan, told the court that the reports and tweets in question had not hurt any religious sentiments. Metha reportedly countered, claiming that he could show “what horrendous effect the tweets have with such lakhs of followers”.

The Indian government has been trying to control the debate around the ongoing farmers’ protest online. Recently, it made Twitter block over 250 Twitter accounts and tweets for allegedly spreading misinformation about the protests, with the potential of leading to violence. Twitter restored the accounts the same day, declining to abide by the order since had freedom of speech implications. MEITY then issued a notice to Twitter, telling the company that it had no say in the matter, and that Section 69A of the Information Technology Act allowed the government to issue such blocks. Subsequently, the ministry instructed the company to block another 1,100-odd accounts related to the protests.

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