Kerala HC orders release of equipment seized from online ‘news’ channel

The Kerala High Court on Thursday directed that the cameras, monitors, microphones and other electronic equipment of YouTube ‘news’ channel Marunadan Malayali seized by the police in connection with a case against its editor, be returned to the media portal.

Justice P V Kunhikrishnan issued the direction to the Ernakulam Sessions Court in whose custody the equipment is presently being kept before being sent for forensic analysis.

The high court was of the view that the equipment should be released to the channel “forthwith”.

The direction came on a plea by Sojan Scaria, one of the two directors of Tidings Digital Publications Pvt Ltd which runs the online channel, who had moved the high court against the sessions court order declining to release the equipment.

It also said that the case — lodged under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 and the Kerala Police Act — was to be proved mainly based on oral evidence.

“I do not know why the entire equipment of this channel was seized by the police in connection with this case,” Justice Kunhikrishnan said.

The prosecution, on its part, contended that the equipment had been sent for forensic analysis in July but were returned to the sessions court as the lab did not have the required sterile hard discs for examining them.

As the money required for the hard discs has to be sanctioned by the Police Headquarters, a request for funds has been sent and is under consideration, the prosecution told the high court.

Once the sanction is received and the hard discs are procured, the equipment would be sent back to the lab, it said.

The time needed depends upon the nature of the examination and pendency of cases at the lab, it added.

The high court refused to accept the explanation given by the prosecution and set aside the sessions court order declining to release the equipment.

The high court directed the sessions court to “release the articles after imposing appropriate conditions, including a condition to the effect that the petitioner (Sojan Scaria) shall not erase or tamper with any contents of the equipment”.

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“The police authorities will immediately, at any rate, within one week from the date of receipt of a certified copy of this order, release the monitor and cameras kept in the police station after executing a bond, in accordance with law,” the high court said.

The police took action against the YouTube channel as part of an investigation to trace its editor Shajan Scaria, following a case filed against him under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act by an MLA belonging to the ruling Left front.

Shajan Scaria had got bail from the Supreme Court in the case.

The case under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act was lodged and an investigation was launched pursuant to a complaint lodged with the Elamakkara police by Left MLA P V Sreenijin, who represents Kunnathunad constituency.

Sreenijin had alleged in his complaint that the Marunadan Malayali channel deliberately defamed him by spreading fake news.

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