A First Information Report (FIR) was filed by the Delhi Police against journalist Vinod Dua for allegedly misreporting and spreading fake news on the communal violence that took place in the Capital in February. The police registered a case against Dua under sections 290 (punishment for public nuisance in cases not otherwise provided for), 505 (statements conducing to public mischief) and 505(2) (statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes) of the Indian Penal Code.
Based on a complaint from Bharatiya Janata Party Spokesperson, Navin Kumar, the FIR alleged Dua of spreading fake news through “The Vinod Dua Show” on YouTube channel HW News. Kumar accused Dua of “misreporting”, he made, “fun of the Prime Minister by using derogatory word as a scaremonger”, and he had said that the central government had done nothing to stop the violence in Delhi and called Prime Minister Narendra Modi “toothless”.
Kumar in his complaint said, “The journalist Mr Vinod Dua has blatantly lied or has misinformed his viewers about the series of events. There are also a series of old instances where bizarre and unfounded allegations have been made against the government, police and political leaders. The reporting’s full of false content misleading context,” reported PTI. The FIR also alleged that Dua is “committing offence of public nuisance, mischief, printing and engraving matters known to be defamatory, intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace, statements conducting to public mischief, etc. and other cognizible offence inter alias offence punishable under various sections of Indian Penal Code and Information Technology Act”.
The complainant referred to a particular episode of the Show aired on March 11, 2020, where Dua talks about former Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia joining the BJP and called his remarks degrading. He also alleged that Dua had said that the Vyapam scam took place in Madhya Pradesh when the BJP were in power.
The Delhi High Court issued a stay order for the investigation following Dua’s plea seeking quashing of the FIR. Claiming that the police action was an attempt to stifle free speech, a fundamental right under Article 19(1) of the Indian Constitution, Dua alleged that the Delhi Police initiated “malicious prosecution” against him on the basis of a complaint after 75 days, without any evidence that his YouTube video had led to violence. The petitioner argued that merely continuing the investigation would amount to “serious harassment”.
Directing the Delhi Police not to take any coercive action against Dua, the single judge bench of Justice Anup J Bhambani said that the FIR is likely to cause “unwarranted and unjustified” harassment to the petitioner, “This court is persuaded to think that the filing of the complaint and registration of the FIR deserve to be considered and deliberated further, before allowing investigation to proceed against the petitioner. Accordingly, further investigation in the matter arising from the subject FIR is stayed, till the next date of hearing,” the order said.
Concerned by the growing tendency among Police to convert frivolous charges into FIR’s, The Editors Guild of India, in its statement said, “The accusations are a brazen attack on his right to free speech and fair comment. An FIR based on this is an instrument of harassment setting off a process that is itself a punishment.”