New Delhi: The Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court has granted anticipatory bail to Siddharth Varadarajan, co-founding editor of independent news portal, The Wire.
The Yogi Adityanath-led Uttar Pradesh government and UP Police had last month filed two FIRs against Varadarajan, booking him under criminal charges under was booked under Sections 188, 505(2) of the IPC and Section 66D of the IT Act for allegedly making "objectionable" remarks in a story published in the portal, according to a report in LiveLaw.
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While granting anticipatory bail, the Lucknow bench, headed by Chandra Dhari Singh, refuses to accept the plea that the applicant may try to flee. Varadarajan was given anticipatory bail on a personal surety of Rs 2 lakh with “two sureties each in the like amount to the satisfaction of the learned trial Court concerned,” the LiveLaw report said.
The FIRs against Varadarajan, filed on April 1, during the lockdown, cited “false claims” made on Twitter that Adityanath attended a religious event in Ayodhya on March 25, when the lockdown was in force.
The FIRs were condemned by the media fraternity as well as wider citizenry, including eminent jurists, academics, artists, writers, civil servants etc., who demanded that criminal proceedings be dropped against the senior journalist.
About 3,500 people had also released a statement, terming the UP government’s action as an attack on press freedom, urging the governments at the Centre and states not to “use the COVID-19 pandemic as a cover to trample upon the media's freedom.”
The signatories included former Supreme Court judge Madan B Lokur, former Madras High Court judge K Chandru and former Patna High Court judge Anjana Prakash, two former chiefs of naval staff, Admiral Ramdas and Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat, as also former finance minister Yashwant Sinha.
According to Varadrajan’s wife’s tweets in April, the UP government had sent policemen drove 700 kilometres during the nationwide lockdown to issue him summons, when the postal system was still operational.
"The UP police's action is just the latest in a series of attempts by the ruling establishment, or persons close to them, to entangle The Wire and its editors in legal cases in an effort to shut them down," said the joint statement issued in support of Varadarjan.
According to a NDTV report, the FIR had referred to a tweet by Varadarajan that said, "On the day the Tablighi Jamaat event was held, Adityanath insisted a large Ram Navami fair planned for Ayodhya from March 25 to April 2 would proceed as usual and that Lord Ram would protect devotees from the coronavirus."
Later, the journalist tweeted, saying: "I should clarify that it was Acharya Paramhans, Hindutva stalwart and head of the official Ayodhya temple trust, who said Ram would protect devotees from coronavirus, and not Adityanath, though he allowed a public event on 25/3 in defiance of the lockdown and took part himself."