VIJAYAWADA: THE Human Rights Forum (HRF) took strong exception to the September 15 interim order of the Andhra Pradesh High Court restraining publication of the contents of a first information report filed by the Anti-Corruption Bureau in a case involving a former advocate general of the State and 12 others. In a press release issued on Friday, HRF AP State general secretary K Sudha and AP and TS coordination committee member VS Krishna said that the court order directed that no electronic or print media as well as social media platforms shall publish anything with relation to the FIR in the crime No.08/RCO-ACB-GNT/2020.
“The order is most unfortunate. The direction amounts to a blanket diktat restraining the media and clearly deprives citizens of their right to obtain information about matters of public importance. The right to know and freedom of speech and expression are vital components in a democracy. This HC order diminishes such freedoms and undermines the fundamental freedom of the press and expression,” they observed.
The Supreme Court had on several occasions restricted publication so as to guard against prejudice to a fair trial or investigation and to ensure that the delivery of justice is not compromised, they added. Stating that most of these orders by the apex court were temporary in nature, they said in the Sahara India Real Estate Corporation vs Securities and Exchange Board of India case, the court had ordered postponement of publication only to prevent interference in the administration of justice.
“It held that the order of postponement was only appropriate in cases where the balancing test otherwise favoured non-publication for a limited period, and that such restrictions were also within the purview of reasonable restrictions under Article 19(2). In a few earlier orders such as the Reliance Petrochemicals vs Indian Express and Naresh Mirajkar vs Govt of Maharashtra for instance – the apex court had spelt out injunctions on publication because it felt that it would interfere with the court process,” they pointed out.
In the present case, there are no such considerations that merit restrictions and in that sense, this is an unprecedented order. The matter relates to allegations of corruption in respect of land dealings and linked to insider information so as to gain undue pecuniary advantage in the Amaravati area of Guntur district. “There is no material whatsoever to justify imposition of a gag order except an allegation by the former attorney general that he is being subjected to political vendetta. The High Court’s interim order imposing blanket restrictions on any reportage amounts to judicial overreach, is legally untenable and totally uncalled for,” they opined and added that the court should reconsider its decision and lift this censorship soon in the interests of democracy.
The HRF also slammed the State government for its GO gaging the media. “Ruling party functionaries have been invoking press freedom while taking exception to the HC order. This is like the devil quoting scriptures. We wish to remind this government that it issued a GO on October 30 last that undermines press freedom and is tailormade for abuse. This GO led to widespread criticism, but has not yet been revoked,” the HRF said.