The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliates welcome the quashing of sedition charges brought against two journalists and the Times of India daily newspaper in Ahmedabad city in the western Indian state of Gujarat.
A criminal complaint was filed in June 2008 by O.P. Mathur, then police commissioner of Ahmedabad, against Bharat Desai and Prashant Dayal, journalists with the city edition of the Times of India. This followed the publication of a series of reports in the newspaper questioning Mathur’s appointment to the post and laying out some issues in his service record which were likely to impede his effectiveness.
The newspaper also ran an opinion poll which revealed a high degree of reader scepticism about Mathur’s appointment to the top police post in the city.
In quashing the charges of sedition, the Ahmedabad High Court held that the intent of the articles in question was to inform and to elicit reader opinions, not to incite disaffection of violence.
India’s Supreme Court held as far back as 1962, that the sedition clauses of the penal code were contrary to the fundamental rights provisions of the constitution, unless invoked to deal with imminent threats of violence.
“We welcome this decision by the Indian court and call for a degree of urgency in dealing with other cases that victimise journalists under laws such as the Official Secrets Act”, said the IFJ Asia-Pacific.
“We call for an emphatic affirmation, similar to that given by the Ahmedabad High Court, of the fundamental rights to speak and seek information”.
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