New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday stayed the arrest of Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, top journalist Rajdeep Sardesai, and and five others, in connection with FIRs filed against them over their “misleading” tweets on the death of a Sikh man during the Republic day farmers’ tractor rally violence in Delhi.
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; Mrinal Pande, Zafar Agha, Paresh Nath, Vinod K Jose and Anant Nath, to quash the multiple FIRs pending against them in several states and sought responses from the Centre and others on the petitions filed by Tharoor, Sardesai and others . Senior lawyer Kapil Sibal, appearing for Tharoor, said that no coercive action be taken against the petitioners in the meantime.
Meantime, 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.
Opposing the stay Delhi Police said. “We will show the horrendous effect these tweets have had. These Twitter handles have lakhs of followers,” Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for Delhi Police, said.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, 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.”
The top court bench also comprising Justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian asked Mehta, “We will hear you. But are you going to arrest him?” To which Mehta replied, “We know our responsibility.” He assured that he will convey the assurance to other states.
Noting that Mehta was representing just the Delhi Police, the SC bench stated, “Issue notice. Stay of arrest in the meantime. List after two weeks.”
On January 30, Delhi Police had lodged a case against Tharoor, Sardesai and several others for for allegedly misreporting and spreading disharmony. Earlier too, cases were filed by the Noida Police under serious charges of sedition besides provisions of promoting enmity, making assertions prejudicial to national integration under the Indian Penal Code (IPC), among other charges, under the Information Technology Act.
Madhya Pradesh and Haryana Police had also filed a case against Tharoor and the six journalists over their alleged ”misleading” tweets on the violence during the farmers’ tractor rally in Delhi.
Meanwhile, Tharoor and Sardesai had filed petition in the top court, challenging the FIRs registered against them in several states and for quashing of the criminal cases against them. In their petition they called the FIRs against them ‘malafide’ exercise that was politically motivated as the contents of the FIRs were identical. Simultaneously, they had also sought protection of their fundamental right to free speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.