NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Friday granted Republic TV editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami interim protection from arrest for three weeks in connection with several FIRs registered against him for allegedly defaming Congress party president Sonia Gandhi.
A two-judge bench headed by Justice DY Chandrachud and also comprising Justice MR Shah, during the hearing held through video conferencing, said no coercive action should be taken against Goswami for three weeks during which he can seek anticipatory bail and other reliefs.
Justice Chandrachud said that the Court will also allow the prayer to amend the petition which sought to include an alternate prayer to consolidate the FIRs registered in the case and also bring the complaints and FIRs on record in the matter.
"The second thing, which we will do, is that we will stay further proceedings in all FIRs except one. The cause of action appears to be in one state. So we will stay the other FIRs pending the amendment of the petition," he said.
After the order was passed, Goswami said, "I am delighted to hear that the Supreme Court has given me protection from arrest. I am deeply grateful to the Supreme Court for also upholding my constitutional right to report and broadcast and for defending my freedom of expression and my freedom as a journalist."
Goswami said that there are over 150 FIRs filed against him by the Congress party "in a clear attempt to intimidate" him from "preventing reporting on the Palgarh incident".
During the hearing, senior advocate Vivek Tankha appearing for Chhattisgarh government sought a restraint order on Goswami from allegedly making defamatory statements against Sonia Gandhi, to which Justice Chandrachud said that "speaking for himself there should be no restraint on the media. I am averse to imposing any restrictions on media".
"This is a case of misuse of the broadcasting license. The gentleman who has come before the court is promoting communal disharmony. Vitiated the atmosphere at the time of lockdown. You should restraint yourself in such circumstances but, you are instigating," Tankha said.
Senior Advocates Mukul Rohatgi and Siddharth Bhatnagar appeared for Arnab Goswami.
"There is a place called Palghar in Maharashtra, where three persons were lynched in the presence of 12 police personnel. My client brought out this incident on his daily show for 45 minutes," Rohatgi said.
"Now, FIRs have been registered against my client, in Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Punjab, Telangana and Jammu and Kashmir. He had raised questions against the Congress and why this brutal incident happened," he added.
Rohatgi also mentioned the physical attack on Goswami and his wife on April 23.
Referring to the defamation case filed against Goswami, Rohatgi said that "defamation cannot be alleged by anyone other than the aggrieved person. This has been settled by this court."
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Maharashtra government, said let the police investigate the matter and come to conclusions.
"Clearly offences are being made out. I can understand cases being clubbed. Also, why cannot FIRs be filed against a person? What is wrong if Congress workers file FIRs? BJP workers have filed FIRs against Rahul Gandhi. He is appearing in a defamation case," he said.
Senior advocate Manish Singhvi, appearing for Rajasthan, said that offences under Section 153A (promoting enmity between different groups) and 153B (assertations prejudicial to national integration) of the IPC are non-bailable.
"It is a clear case under these two sections. A prima facie case. There is no denial of the statement. The context in which the statement was made is clearly covered under 153A. It's a prima facie case of an investigation under the two sections," he said.