In a major blow for press freedom and personal liberty, the Madras High Court has upheld the decision of the 13th metropolitan magistrate to refuse to remand
“Nakkeeran” editor R R Gopal in a sedition case slapped on him after his magazine published an article allegedly defamatory of Governor Banwarilal Purohit.
Wondering how the mere publication of an article against the Governor would amount sedition and would overawe him from exercising his lawful powers, High Court judge N Anand Venkatesan on Monday dismissed a petition filed by local police challenging the order of the magistrate refusing to remand Gopal .
It asked how the Zam Bazaar police station arrested Gopal, that too under the serious charge of sedition on Oct 8, 2018, within a day of receipt of complaint from the Governor’s secretary.
Agreeing with the magistrate, Justice Venkatesan said Gopal was not told why he was arrested till he was produced in court for remand. Nor was the jurisdiction of the police station fixed .The magistrate was right in rejecting the remand request on the ground there was no sufficient material to do so.
The high court also pointed out that the magistrate, while releasing Gopal, gave liberty to the investigating officer to come before him again after collecting sufficient material to make out a case. It showed he had an open mind on the issue.
On how the magistrate asked The Hindu group director and senior journalist N Ram to intercede on behalf of Gopal, the high court said the magistrate only asked him whether there was any precedent of Sec 124 being invoked against a publications and the latter said it would directly interfere with press freedom.
The high court also said:” It is clear from Art 32 of the Advocates Act, the court has power to permit a person not enrolled as an advocate to put forth his submission whenever called for . The court also noted that Ram did not make any submission on the merits of the case.
On the larger question of lower magistracy mechanically remanding accused to custody, the high court cited 14 principles framed by the Supreme Court to ensure no one is deprived of his personal liberty save by the due process of law.
It said the remanding magistrate should satisfy himself that the arrest was legal and the investigating agency should satisfy the court that there were justifiable grounds for seeking the custody of the accused for the purpose of further investigation.
The high court judge placed on record the appreciation of the 13th metropolitan magistrate as well a senior advocate and special public prosecutor and counsel for Gopal for their valuable contribution in the case.