Just being journalists doesn’t grant them the license to take the law in their hands. This was what the Supreme Court said while lifting interim protection from arrest granted to some scribes in Madhya Pradesh. Saying that there was no reason for the interim protection to continue, the SC bench of Justices AS Bopanna and MM Sundresh noted that the accused were also involved in other cases.
The accused, a Dainik Bhaskar correspondentand and some other journalists were reportedly taking bribes to suppress a news report of an illegal child trafficking racket.
“Though at this stage we need not go into the nature of the allegations, keeping in view the fact that the petitioners are also involved in other cases, at this stage we see no reason to continue the interim protection granted by this Court,” the Court said.
During the hearing, the accused submitted that the allegations against them of asking for a bribe or ransom to suppress a news report, were weak.
However, the court ultimately decided to discontinue the protection earlier granted to them, with Justice Bopanna orally observing, “Being a journalist does not mean you have the license to take law into your own hands … Nothing is believable or unbelievable these days.”
The Supreme Court had granted interim relief to the accused last year while hearing individual petitions filed by the accused, including Sadaqat Pathan of Dainik Baskar.
Apart from lifting the interim protection from arrest, the Court added, “Whether there is a need to take the petitioner in custody or not is a matter to be taken into consideration by the Investigating Officer and appropriate action be taken only in accordance with law.”
The accused had moved the Supreme Court after the Madhya Pradesh High Court had declined their applications for anticipatory bail.
While dismissing Pathan’s bail plea, the High Court had also commented that oblique acts performed under the garb of journalism cannot be protected.
“It is evident that allegations which have been made against the applicant are not pertaining to the discharge of duties of the applicant as a journalist or an accredited reporter for a newspaper. If any oblique act is performed under the garb/shadow of a professed profession that cannot be given protection … prima facie, it cannot be said that the present applicant is implicated in a false case and that needs no investigation,” the High Court had said.
Dainik Bhaskar had reported on a case from the Khandwa district of Madhya Pradesh, where a couple was stated to have tried to sell a newborn child.
In an odd turn of events, the police eventually disclosed that they were also investigating the role of local journalists in the case.
As per a complaint, local journalists were stated to have blackmailed and demanded ransom from one of the accused on threats that they would publish a report alleging that he was involved in child trafficking if the ransom was not paid. The accused-complainant said that he had been forced to pay the journalists ₹20 lakh.
A criminal complaint was lodged against the journalists for kidnapping, extortion, and offences punishable under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act and the Juvenile Justice Act.