Sedition case: News channel moves SC seeking quashing of FIR lodged in Andhra Pradesh

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New Delhi, May 17 (PTI) A media outlet has moved the Supreme Court seeking quashing of an FIR registered against it in a sedition case in Andhra Pradesh, claiming the attempt is to “create a chilling effect” for news channels in the state so that they are wary of hosting any content which is critical of the government.

Shreya Broadcasting Pvt Ltd, which owns TV5 news channel which has its bureaus in Hyderabad, Vishakapatnam and Vijayawada, has alleged in its petition that the state “intends to silence” its critiques and the media by filing a “vague FIR” and abusing the process of law.

The FIR against the TV channel has connection with the sedition case lodged against the rebel YSR Congress MP K Raghu Ramakrishna Raju, who has already been arrested by the Andhra Pradesh police.

The channel, in the petition, has stated that the FIR has been lodged against it for airing programmes involving Raju who has been critical of the state government led by his own party.

Claiming that the FIR lodged on May 14 is an attempt to “chill the free speech rights” of the petitioner, the plea filed on Sunday has sought the apex court’s direction to restrain the authorities in Andhra Pradesh from taking any coercive action against the management and employees of the news channel in pursuance of the case lodged against them.

It has also sought a direction to Telangana government to ensure and take requisite steps to enable the petitioner and its employees to continue to pursue their profession without any interference by the police and officials of Andhra Pradesh.

The Crime Investigation Department (CID), which has arrested YSR Congress MP K Raghu Ramakrishna Raju in the case, has also named two media houses and others as accused.

In its plea filed in the apex court through advocate Vipin Nair, Shreya Broadcasting Pvt Ltd has said that freedom of speech of media is of great importance and the FIR clearly intends to breach the same by “chilling the media houses into submission”.

“It is submitted that the attempt of the FIR is to create a chilling effect for news channels in the state so that every news channel is wary of hosting any content which is critical of the government. By filing a vague FIR and abusing the process of law, the state intends to silence its critiques and the media, which is discharging its duty,” the plea has claimed.

It alleged the FIR seeks to criminalise the bona fide act of the petitioner hosting a sitting MP on its channel.

“Such FIRs will lead to a bad precedent, where media houses will refrain from hosting anyone who disagrees with the government in any manner,” it said, adding the basis of alleging a criminal conspiracy in the case is that the channel had given Raju a “premediated slot” which is in fact a standard practice in media business.

“It is clear from the FIR that the FIR intends to punish speech made against the Chief Minister. It is clear from the catena of judgments of the Supreme Court that sedition can, in no way, be applicable when the criticism is that of a person holding a post in the government,” the plea said, while also seeking quashing of the May 14 enquiry report which formed the basis of FIR.

It claimed that by invoking the colonial era law, the state has resorted to the “classic technique of chilling free speech” when there is even the mildest criticism against the government or any of its constituents.

The plea, which has also sought stay on investigation in the case, alleged that antecedents of the authorities show that the state intends to “stifle any dissent” and continuance of probe and FIR would lead to severe prejudice to not only the petitioner, but also to all other media channels operating there.

“If the prosecution is allowed to continue, it is likely to lead to a bad precedent as no media house will be willing to host any person who is even slightly critical of the government,” the plea said.

The FIR has been lodged for the alleged offences under sections 124A (sedition), 153A (promoting enmity between different groups), 505 (statements conducing public mischief) read with 120B (conspiracy) of Indian Penal Code, Earlier in the day, the apex court directed that the YSR Congress MP, arrested in connection with the sedition case, be taken to Army hospital at Secunderabad in Telangana for medical examination.

In a relief to the MP, who had been quizzed by state police for several hours in the case, a vacation bench of Justices Vineet Saran and B R Gavai directed that he be kept at the Army hospital at Secunderabad till further orders.

The vacation bench was hearing two appeals, including one by Raju, against the Andhra Pradesh High Court order dismissing his bail and asking him to go to appropriate forum for relief.

In the second appeal, his son K Bharath has sought Raju’s medical examination by a private hospital.

The CID, which registered the case on its own, has alleged, 'Sri Raju did not restrict himself to fair criticism of the government but has made every attempt to create hatred, contempt disaffection towards the government. Not only has he done this through his words, but also used visual gestures of face and hands to provoke his followers to take up violence. They are seditious in nature.' The CID also alleged that the MP particularly targeted two communities and tried to stoke hatred against them by trying to portray that the government has been favouring the two. PTI ABA MNL SJK ABA RKS RKS