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Bombay HC quashes the gag order of the CBI Court preventing journalist from covering Sohrabuddin Sheikh Trial case

The Bombay High Court headed by Justice Revati Mohite-Dere on Wednesday has quashed the November 2017 order of the CBI Sessions Court preventing journalists from day to day coverage of the controversial Sohrabuddin case. The Court stated that the ban on covering any part of the proceeding was contrary to law.

According to a report by Scroll.in, two different petitions had been filed by Bombay Union of Journalists (BUJ) and 9 other journalists in December 2017 seeking the quashing of the controversial ban order on reporting passed by the CBI Court on November 29, 2017. The 9 journalists included: Founder Editor of The Wire Sidharth Bhatia, Sunilkumar Singh from NDTV, Sadaf Modak from The Indian Express, Mumbai Mirror’s Sunil Baghel and Sharmeen Hakim Indorewala, Rebecca Samervel from The Times of India, Vidya Kumar from India Today, Neeta Kolhatkar from The Free Press Journal and Naresh Fernandes- editor scroll.in

The November 29th gag order of the CBI Court had banned the media from reporting on the proceedings of the case until further orders. The court had issued the directive based on a request by the team of defence lawyers who had argued that publishing details of the trial would affect the security of the prosecution lawyers, the accused and the defence team. They had also claimed that there had been instances of misreporting in the past, which had “prejudiced” both sides in previous cases.

The defence had pointed out media reports raising doubts about the death of Justice Brijgopal Harkishan Loya, who was previously presiding over the same case until he died, which led to apprehension about the possibility of any “untoward incident”. They had argued that “by giving such natural death the colour of killing him” the media had created concerns that something untoward might happen. Hence the CBI court had prevented the media from further reporting the case.

However challenging the gag order, both the writ petitions had asked for the order to be quashed as it was “bad in law”, “illegal” and a “major road block” for them in discharging their duties.

Senior advocate Mihir Desai assisted by advocate Chetan Mali appeared for the Bombay Union of Journalists (BUJ) and A. Ponda appeared for the other group of 9 journalists.

Rejecting the arguments of the defence, the Bombay High Court stated that the CBI court had no power to gag the media and further the defence was not able to support his contention with the help of any provision of law.

The Court observed, “The media serves a larger public purpose by disseminating information that will otherwise not be easily available to the people”

“The press is the most powerful watchdog of the society,” Justice Mohite-Dere said. “A fair trial is one that balances the public interest of society. It is always open for prosecution if necessary to request the court to conceal the identity of the witness if the need so arises.”

Justice Mohit Dere finally held, “Sensationalism cannot be the cause to prevent media from publishing,”

“Similarly, a mere allegation of a surcharged atmosphere cannot suffice. Nothing has been brought on record to substantiate the defendants’ contention that they are in fear of their life.”, she added.

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