Court dismisses Delhi police plea against order asking them to release electronic devices to editors of news portal

A sessions court here has rejected an appeal by the Delhi Police challenging an order of release of seized electronic devices of five editors of news portal The Wire in connection with an FIR, saying serious injury would be caused to the “foundations of democracy” if press, its fourth pillar, is not allowed to function independently.

The city police had filed a revision petition assailing the September 23 order of the magisterial court asking them to release seized electronic devices to Siddharth Varadrajan, Siddharth Bhatia, Jahnavi Sen, M K Venu and Mithun Kidambi.

In October last year, police had lodged an FIR against the portal and its editors on a complaint by BJP leader Amit Malviya accusing the media outlet of “cheating and forgery” and “tarnishing” his reputation.

Additional Sessions Judge Pawan Singh Rajawat Wednesday dismissed the revision petition filed by the city police, saying the impugned order of the magisterial court did not decide any right and only granted “the interim custody” of the devices till conclusion of the investigation or disposal of the case.

“The press is considered the fourth pillar of our great democracy and if it is not allowed to function and operate independently, it would cause serious injury to the foundations of our democracy,” the sessions court said.

Dismissing the petition as “not maintainable,” the sessions court said the order passed by the magistrate was “purely interlocutory in nature” and no revision will lie against it.

“The investigating agency by continuous seizure of electronic devices of the respondents (portal and its editors), is not only causing undue hardship to them, but impinges upon their fundamental right of freedom of profession, occupation, trade or business as guaranteed under Article 19(1)(g) as well as freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution as admittedly the respondents are working for news portal — The Wire — which is engaged in disseminating news and information and the electronic devices were being used for their work,” it said.

It did not find any fault with the order of the magisterial court and said it not only safeguarded the interest of the journalists but also ensured that they keep the devices safe.

Rejecting the arguments of the Delhi Police, the judge said the release order was made after noting that the mirror imaging of the devices has been done and their custody was no longer required.

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The city police’s crime branch had registered an FIR against Varadrajan, Bhatia, Sen, Venu and Kidambi under Indian Penal Code sections 420 (cheating), 468 (forgery with the purpose of cheating), 469 (forgery for harming reputation), 471 (using forged document), 500 (defamation), 120B (criminal conspiracy) and 34 (common intention) along with the provisions of the Information Technology Act.

The stories were retracted by the news portal.

Malviya had said The Wire’s reports alleged that Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, regularly colluded with members of the BJP in removing content deemed unfavourable to the party.

Even after Meta issued a categorical denial and said the documents shown by the portal were “fabricated” and that the ‘Xcheck’ status, the privilege reportedly bestowed on him, had been mischaracterised, The Wire instead of pausing its coverage and doing an internal audit went on to pblish yet another “malicious” report, he had said.

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