On Tuesday, the Supreme Court stayed the arrest of Congress lawmaker Shashi Tharoor and six journalists, including Rajdeep Sardesai, in criminal cases pending against them over their tweets on the death of a Sikh man during the January 26 tractor rally in the Capital.
A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) SA Bobde issued a notice on the petitions filed by Tharoor, Sardesai and five other journalists to quash the multiple first information reports (FIRs) pending against them in several states.
The top court said the stay on the arrest will continue till the next date of hearing, after two weeks, and also issued notices to Delhi Police and Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Haryana.
The Delhi Police opposed the stay. “We will show the horrendous effect these tweets have had. These Twitter handles have lakhs of followers,” Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who was appearing for Delhi Police, said.
Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, who was representing Tharoor, said that interim protection was needed as the Congress leader is in Delhi and the charge is serious. “The investigating agency can arrest me anytime,” Sibal said.
The Top Court bench asked Mehta, “We will hear you. But are you going to arrest him?” Mehta replied, “We know our responsibility.” He assured that he will convey the assurance to other states.
But the bench noted that Mehta was representing just the Delhi Police. “Issue notice. Stay of arrest in the meantime. List after two weeks,” said the bench also comprising Justice AS Bopanna and Justice V Ramasubramanian.
Mrinal Pande, Zafar Agha, Paresh Nath, Anant Nath and Vinod Jose are among the other journalists.
The Delhi Police lodged a case on January 30 against Tharoor, Sardesai and several others for alleged misreporting and spreading disharmony. Simultaneously, cases were lodged at Gurugram in Haryana and in Madhya Pradesh under serious charges of sedition besides provisions of promoting enmity, making assertions prejudicial to national integration under the Indian Penal Code (IPC), among other provisions under the Information Technology Act.
Tharoor and Sardesai had petitioned the top court challenging the registration of FIRs against him in several states and for quashing of the criminal cases against them. They had sought protection of their fundamental right to free speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.
They had stated that the multiple FIRs against them were a malafide exercise that was politically motivated as the contents of the FIRs were identical. The other people who have been named in these FIRs also have reportedly approached the top court seeking similar relief.