16/05/2020 10:02 PM IST | Updated 18/05/2020 10:43 AM IST

Gujarat Editor Hits Back At Sedition Charge, Accuses BJP Govt Of 'Selective Bias'

In applications filed in two different courts, news portal editor Dhaval Patel argued that it was his ‘perspective’ that Vijay Rupani may be replaced as Chief Minister and the article he wrote expressed it as a ‘mere possibility’. This cannot be considered sedition, he said.

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Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani in a file photo. Media reports say he has been under increasing pressure to contain the rise in number of cases and deaths due to the coronavirus pandemic.

NEW DELHI—The Gujarat government displayed ‘selective bias’, ‘singled out’ and ‘discriminated’ against me by imposing the charge of sedition in an FIR for reporting—like many other media houses—that Chief Minister Vijay Rupani may be replaced on account of his poor handling of the coronavirus crisis in the state, journalist Dhaval Patel said in separate applications to the City Civil and Sessions court and the High Court in Ahmedabad. 

An FIR was filed against Patel, the editor of Gujarati news website Face Of Nation, on May 11 accusing him of committing an act of sedition and spreading false warning under section 124A of the Indian Penal Code and section 54 of the Disaster Management Act, respectively, for reporting that Rupani may be replaced with union minister Mansukh Mandaviya. The young editor was subsequently put in the Sabarmati jail. 

Soon after, Patel’s lawyer Anandvardhan Yagnik filed an application for bail in the sessions court and an application seeking to quash the FIR against him in the High Court. 

“The petitioner states that he has been at the receiving end of the state government’s ire and he has been discriminated against, singled out and booked for the offence of sedition alone, despite the fact that there are a couple of other media houses that ran the same story as the petitioner is being penalised for now and yet no action has been taken against any other media house for reasons best known to the investigating agency,” the applications, accessed by HuffPost India, asserted.

According to this report in The Hindu newspaper, the web portal Face Of Nation first reported about the possibility of Rupani being replaced with union minister Mansukh Mandaviya on May 7. Following this, all local publications reported it. Mandaviya soon issued a clarification that the Gujarat CM was not being replaced. The story was published at a time when local publications reported that Rupani was under pressure due to rising number of deaths in Gujarat from the coronavirus pandemic. 

Seeking urgent consideration for the petitions, Advocate Yagnik wrote to the registrar of both courts that Patel “is being hounded by the respondent state [Gujarat government] only because he is a journalist and has published some articles in the past that have not gone down very well with the Respondent State Government.” The applications mention two previous FIRs registered against him by government officials in 2018 to substantiate this claim.

Speaking with The Indian Express before Patel was sent to judicial custody, B V Gohil, Assistant Commissioner of Police, Detection of Crime Branch, Ahmedabad, explained why the police booked him. 

“An attempt to create unrest in the state and society was made through a message on the web portal...A preliminary investigation was conducted by Crime Branch and after that the editor was booked and detained,” he said. 

In both petitions, Patel has given his rebuttal to the accusations made by the police. 

Patel argued that it was his ‘perspective’ that Rupani may be replaced as Chief Minister and he was expressing a ‘mere possibility’—this, he said, is not seditious.

Patel argued that it was his ‘perspective’ that Rupani may be replaced as Chief Minister and he was expressing a ‘mere possibility’—this, he said, is not seditious. He pointed out that, as per several Supreme Court judgements, an intention to instigate people to commit violence or disrupt public order needs to be established for proving the charge of sedition and clarified that his intention was not malafide. 

The young editor also refuted the charge of spreading false warnings by saying that he had “put down in words the ground reality of the state of affairs in the state of Gujarat” which included the details of the “steady rise in the number of COVID 19 positive cases and deaths” due to the coronavirus. “There is no exaggeration, falsification or misrepresentation” in the report, he said. 

Patel further asserted in the petitions that the registration of the FIR is an unconstitutional act as it shows ‘selective bias’ against him. “This selective bias shown by the respondent state [Gujarat government] suffers from the vice of arbitrariness and arbitrariness being the anti-thesis of Article 14, the act of the Respondent State [Gujarat government] is unconstitutional,” he said. 

So first the visual and print media were castigated, now the practise of using the law to put them in jail has been resumed across India.Advocate Anandvardhan Yagnik

Speaking with HuffPost India, the lawyer Anandvardhan Yagnik termed Patel’s arrest as “selective targeting” and on the face of it, “malafide”. This was part of the pattern of arrests or FIRs registered against journalists across India, Yagnik felt. 

“Thus far they used to target the visual media. But nobody was being arrested. Now this regime acts as if we are in an emergency, and they catch small people and warn others that this could happen to you as well. So first the visual and print media were castigated, now the practise of using the law to put them in jail has been resumed across India,” he said.  

The well known public interest lawyer added that he hopes the courts hear the petition at the soonest possible time and get Patel out of prison and charges against him quashed.