28/05/2020 3:54 PM IST

Gujarat Court Says Sedition Charge Not Proven, Grants Editor Bail

Journalist Dhaval Patel had been arrested after publishing a report which claimed that Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani may be replaced for mishandling the coronavirus pandemic.

The India Today Group via Getty Images
Chief Minister of Gujarat Vijay Rupani in a file photo. 

NEW DELHI—Stating that the First Information Report (FIR) and other documents filed by the police to book journalist Dhaval Patel for sedition do not appear to establish the charge, a sessions court in Ahmedabad granted him bail on Wednesday. 

“Now, reading of FIR with all police papers and different statements, no such prima facie serious offence is looked out,” wrote Additional Sessions Judge Prerana C Chauhan of the Ahmedabad City Sessions Court in reference to the charge of sedition in her eight-page bail order.  

 On May 11, a police officer in the Detection of Crime Branch in Ahmedabad filed an FIR against Patel, editor of Gujarati news website Face Of Nation, 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. 

The FIR was filed in response to a news report published by Patel on his website which claimed that Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani may be replaced with union minister Mansukh Mandaviya since the state administration poorly handled the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. Patel was arrested soon after and was in judicial custody for nearly a fortnight. 

Now, reading of FIR with all police papers and different statements, no such prima facie serious offence is looked out.Additional Sessions Judge Prerana C Chauhan in May 27 bail order

According to the bail order dated May 27, while arguing against granting bail, advocate Sudhir Brahmbhatt, the lawyer for the Gujarat government, said in court that the journalist “tried to instigate and create a feeling of hatred in the minds of the people against the Chief Minister of the State and also tried to spread rumors, false news and mislead the people of the state by creating panic in public.” He further claimed that Patel is “habitual of doing such acts.” 

Patel’s lawyer Anandvardhan Yagnik cited two key past judgments of the Supreme Court and one from the Gujarat High Court to counter the state’s accusation of sedition. These are: Kedar Nath Singh Vs State of Bihar (AIR 1962 SC955), Shreya Singhal Vs Union of India (AIR 2015 SC 1523) and Manubhai Tribhovandas Patel & Ors Vs.State of Gujarat & Ors (1971 GLR 968). 

All three judgments explain specifically what constitutes sedition and are widely cited to prevent abuse and broad interpretation of the law by the state. 

Yagnik’s main contention during the hearing was that to establish the offence of sedition, intention to incite violence and disrupt public order needed to be proven. This argument has been further explained in the written applications for bail and quashing the FIR. HuffPost India has previously reported in detail the arguments cited by Yagnik in applications filed in two different courts while seeking to defend the editor. 

Observations By Judge In Bail Order

In response to these arguments by both sides, the Sessions court Judge Prerana C Chauhan noted in her order, “It is true that it is not sedition to criticise administrative machinery or the officers of Government but where the speaker exceeds the limits of fair criticism and his object in attacking the existing Govt. is to create disaffection the speech amounts to sedition.” 

She emphasised the importance of proving intentions while establishing the offence of sedition. “Now the question of intention is always an important factor in such cases and intention is proved also by evidences. So intention is a matter of evidence,” she noted. 

The judge subsequently wrote that prima facie no such serious offence was made out, going by the contents of the FIR and other documents filed by the police, and granted the editor bail on his furnishing personal bond of Rs 50,000 and a surety of the same amount to the satisfaction of the trial court. A few more conditions were added to the bail order, too. It was unclear, at the time of writing, if Patel had been released. His mobile phone continued to be out of reach. 

A decision in response to another application filed by Patel in the Gujarat High Court requesting the FIR to be quashed was awaiting a decision from the court at the time of writing this report. Advocate Yagnik told this reporter that the bail order will not have any impact on the proceedings before the High Court.

Earlier this month, HuffPost Indiareported the details of the arguments cited by Patel in his High Court application which is seeking to quash the FIR against him. Patel continues to remain accused of sedition and circulating false warnings as police have not withdrawn their charges.

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