Jammu and Kashmir High Court quashes FIR against journalist Asif Iqbal Naik

A single-judge bench of Justice Rajnesh Oswal passed this judgment while hearing petition of Asif Iqbal Naik under Section 561-A CrPC for quashing the FIR dated 12.05.2018 registered by Police Station Kishtwar for commission of offences under Sections 500, 504 & 505 RPC.

The Jammu and Kashmir High Court quashed an FIR registered against journalist Asif Iqbal Naik. The High Court said, “No fetters can be placed on the freedom of press by registering FIR against a reporter, who was performing his professional duty by publishing a news item on the basis of information obtained by him from an identifiable source.”

A single-judge bench of Justice Rajnesh Oswal passed this judgment while hearing petition of Asif Iqbal Naik under Section 561-A CrPC for quashing the FIR dated 12.05.2018 registered by Police Station Kishtwar for commission of  offences under Sections 500, 504 & 505 RPC.

It is stated in the petition that the petitioner is a reputed journalist and associated with newspaper, news channel and has broken various stories of national importance. It is further stated the petitioner had published a story in newspaper Early Times in its edition of 19th April, 2018 and in the  said report, the petitioner has also given reference to the YouTube channel and also invited the subscribers to watch video on Early Times, YouTube channel, Jammu.

It is submitted that brother of Akhter Hussain, Abdul Ganie had filed a criminal complaint against respondents  under sections 330, 331, 342, 348 RPC and the same was instituted on 19.04.2018 itself, in which the similar contents were mentioned, those were got published in the newspaper.

The Counsel for the Petitioner argued that the respondents got furious due to the reporting by the petitioner. Later a FIR was lodged against Asif dated 12.05.2018 under sections 500, 504 and 505 RPC was registered by the Kishtwar Police.

It is further submitted that the petitioner was doing his professional duties and he only reported to the extent that was witnessed by him during the statements given by the kin of Akhter Hussain that was corroborated by the criminal complaint lodged against Private Respondent by the real brother of Akhter Hussain.

The Court observed that Section 499 RPC provides that imputation must be made or published by a person with intention to cause harm or knowing or having reason to believe that such imputation will cause harm to the reputation of such person.

“This is not in dispute that the petitioner is a journalist by profession and his job is to gather information and publish the same in the newspaper or in any other media. The information published in the form of news may pertain to issues of national/ international importance or local in nature. A mere perusal of the news item reflects that it has been published pursuant to the information disclosed by the kin of Akhter Hussain. Even the names of cousin of Akhter Hussain, namely, Irshad Ahmed and brother Abdul Gani have been reflected in the news item who narrated the said incident. Without commenting upon as to whether the Police department had any locus to initiate the proceedings under section 499 RPC or not as the stage of cognizance has not arrived yet, it is to be seen whether in such circumstances offence under section 499 RPC is made out or not. This Court is of the considered opinion that the publication of the news item on the basis of statement made by the cousin and brother of Akhter Hussain, does not amount to offence under section 499 RPC as the petitioner has been performing his professional duty of reporting the matter. More so, when the complaint was too filed against some of the respondents by the brother of the said Akhter Hussain on 19.04.2018, narrating the similar story. If the respondents were aggrieved of the same and they had some other version, they too could have resorted to the same mode, by getting published their part of version”, the Court said.

So far as allegations with regard to commission of offence under section 504 RPC is concerned, there is no allegation that the Petitioner has insulted any one thereby provoking him to break the public peace or commit any other offence. As such, uncontroverted allegations made in FIR do not even constitute offence under section 504 RPC.

The High Court cited the Judgement of the Supreme Court in Bilal Ahmad Kaloo vs. State of Andhra Pradesh, 1997 (3) Crimes 130 (SC), in which the Apex Court  has held that mens rea is a necessary postulate for the offence under Section 505 IPC.

The High Court therefore observed that mens rea is an essential ingredient of offence under section 505 RPC and as section 505 RPC provides a reasonable restriction on the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression, therefore, the same is required to be strictly construed.The intention to generate the consequences as contained in section 505 RPC must be forthcoming from the plain reading of the statement/report or rumour and should not left at the discretion of a particular person. Prima facie there is nothing in the FIR that the petitioner desired to generate the consequences as claimed by the respondents and rather he has performed his professional duty”,the Court observed.

“Further, exception to section 505 RPC clearly provides that it does not amount to an offence within the meaning of this section when a person making, publishing or circulating such report, rumour or report has reasonable grounds for believing that such statement, rumor or report is true and make publishes or circulates in good faith and without any such intent. Even if, for the sake of arguments the offence is made out against the petitioner, still his case would fall within the exception as well, as he published what was narrated by kin of Akhter Hussain. Reliance is placed upon the decision of Apex Court in Vinod Dua vs Union of India & Ors, 2021 SCC Online SC 414, where in the Apex Court while relying upon number of its earlier decision quashed the criminal proceedings arising out of FIR on the ground that the statements of the petitioner were covered by Exception-2 and Exception-3 of section 499,” the order reads.

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