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Supreme Court of India extends protection to TV anchor from coercive action in defamation cases

New Delhi: The Supreme Court Thursday extended the protection from any coercive action till August 31 to TV news anchor Amish Devgan in connection with the cases lodged over his alleged defamatory remark against Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti during a show telecast on June 15. 

A bench comprising Justices A M Khanwilkar and Dinesh Maheshwari took note of the fact that one of the FIRs against Devgan has been transferred from Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh to Noida in Uttar Pradesh. The bench, during the proceedings conducted via video conferencing, said the news anchor, represented by senior lawyer Siddharth Luthra and advocate Mrinal Bharti, will have to now amend his plea accordingly and deferred the hearing to August 31.

Now the UP government will have to file its response to Devgan's plea in which he has sought quashing of the FIRs, stay on the investigation and the protection from any coercive action for his alleged comments against the sufi saint. The bench made clear that the interim relief of protection to Devgan, granted earlier, shall remain operative.

The apex court, while granted interim relief to Devgan, had also stayed the probe in the cases related to the June 15 telecast against the journalist. Five FIRs have been lodged against Devgan in Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Telangana for using a derogatory term for the Sufi saint in the news debate show called Aar Paar' on his channel on June 15.

However, he later tweeted an apology saying that he was actually referring to Muslim ruler Alauddin Khilji and inadvertently ended up naming Chisti. As regards the interim relief, till the next date of hearing, we deem it appropriate to pass ad-interim relief in terms of prayer clause (A) and (B) (which seek stay of investigation in pending and future FIRs and the protection from possible coercive action), the top court had said in its June 26 order.

On July 8, the interim order of June 26 was extended till August 6 and now it will remain in operation till this month end. Issuing notices to Maharashtra, Telangana and Rajasthan, the bench had earlier asked the petitioner to make the complainants, who have lodged FIRs, as parties to his plea.

Two FIRs for the alleged offence have been registered at Ajmer and Kota in Rajasthan and one has been lodged at Bahadurpura in Hyderabad, the plea said, adding that two such FIRs have been lodged at Nanded and Pydhonie in Maharashtra. Devgan said he has already issued a clarification through a tweet and moreover, errors cannot be construed as criminal offences. The journalist has said the plea concerned his life and liberty.

In a well-orchestrated manner - the petitioner has been made a victim of country-wide filing of false and baseless criminal complaint and FIRs on the one hand, and on the other hand, petitioner, his family and his crew has been abused unabashedly on social media and by personal messages by unknown persons. The petitioner has also received several death threats from various anti-social elements, the plea submitted.

It said that Devgan was holding a discussion on a petition filed before the top court on his show on June 15 on the issue of the Places of Worship Special Provisions Act. During the course of the live heated discussion one of the panellists quoted Chisti (Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti) and inadvertently, petitioner (Devgan) who wanted to refer to the historical figure Khilji(Alauddin Khilji) as a marauder, mentioned the name Chisti' , the plea submitted.

That immediately on realising his inadvertent slip of tongue during heated debate in his news debate show petitioner tendered a clarification and clarified that the name Chisti was mentioned by error and inadvertently, it said. Devgan tweeted the clarification on his personal Twitter account on the intervening night of June 16-17 and moreover, the channel carried a video clarification featuring the journalist, the plea said.

One of the FIRs was lodged at Pydhonie police station in Mumbai against Devgan for allegedly hurting religious sentiments by referring to Chisti in derogatory terms in the TV programme on the complaint of Arif Razvi, general secretary of the Raza Academy.

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