The Allahabad High Court today dismissed the plea moved by Umar Gautam seeking directions to restrict the investigating authorities from leaking sensitive information on the conversion racket case to the media (Mohd. Umar Gautam v. State of UP).
Gautam was arrested by the Anti Terrorist Squad (ATS) in connection with an alleged conversion racket.
A Division Bench of Justices Ramesh Sinha and Vikas Srivastava rejected the plea, stating that the press release issued by the investigation agencies and media outlets does not hinder a fair trial.
“The assertion of the petitioner that by means of press note dated 20.06.2021, some sensitive information has been leaked in the ongoing investigation against the petitioner is patently erroneous and is, accordingly, rejected,” the Court said.
The Court said that there is no material indicating that any sensitive material(s) in respect of the FIR registered against Gautam were publicised by the investigating authorities.
After reviewing the material placed on record and the submissions of the parties, the Court found that the press note released by the investigating authorities on June 20 only indicates the reason for lodging the FIR and names of arrested persons with their photos.
In this regard, the Court placed reliance on the office memorandum issued by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs which laid down guidelines to be scrupulously adhered to by the police while dealing with the media.
The said guidelines state that police officials should confine their briefings to the essential facts, and not rush to the press with half-baked, speculative or unconfirmed information about ongoing investigations.
Counsel for the petitioner had placed reliance on Devangana Kalita v. Delhi Police, where the Delhi Police disclosed sensitive information with regard to petitioner via press release which further led to a malicious media trial.
However, the plea was dismissed by the Court.
The petitioners are accused of mass conversion of around 1,000 persons and have been charged for offences under the recently enacted Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act, 2021.
Previously, the Court demanded how such an order can be passed and also referred to a judgment of Supreme Court judge Justice DY Chandrachud on media freedom.
“Can we stop the media? Have you read Justice Chandrachud’s judgment on this? Even the Supreme Court has passed many judgments in this regard. Media has right to report,” the Court said.
Read order here: