'Rana Ayyub needs to read the law before talking about journalistic freedom'
Rana Ayyub put forth her claims in an Opinion article in The Washington Post on June 29
Recently, nine individuals were booked under Sections 153, 153A, 295A, 120B of the Indian Penal Code 1860, for spreading a false and doctored video where allegedly an elderly Muslim man was being beaten up by few Hindus and was forced to chant Jai Shree Ram in the Loni area of Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh.
One of those booked, Rana Ayyub claimed that the FIR and the legal proceeding that followed this doctored video were arbitrary and done with the intent of supressing the freedom of speech and expression and to curb the rights of the journalists.
She put forth her claims in an Opinion article in The Washington Post on June 29 titled 'The Indian government continues to harass journalists. I’m facing prison over a tweet.'
It is important to point out that a video having such serious allegations especially ones that can spread communal disharmony and disturb the peace between two communities which can have serious repercussions needs to be verified to find the truth in the matter and checked thoroughly before being spread and shared especially in areas like Loni which are already sensitive and such news can easily stir violence.
Journalists these days seem to forget the fact that they can be held liable for the news they publish and that they are not immune if the news can cause violence and public disorder. They need to understand the fact that spreading false news, especially one that can spread disharmony amongst the public, is an offence and they can be held liable.
No freedom is absolute, not even Freedom of Speech and Expression. Freedom of speech and expression have exceptions under Article 19(2).
Article 19(2) States : Nothing in sub clause (a) of clause ( 1 ) shall affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub clause in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.
In the instant case, the video shared by Rana Ayyub not only has the potential to disturb public order but is also capable of inciting violence in the region.
Furthermore, Rana Ayyub has agreed during the course of investigation that she did not check the authenticity or the truth in the video before sharing the same. This makes her liable for the content she published and hence the FIR was registered under offences under Sections 153, 153A, 295A, 120B of the Indian Penal Code 1860.
For a clearer picture of the law, let’s have a look at the wordings of the sections under which Rana Ayyub and other journalists have been booked.
Section 153 of the Indian Penal Code states- “Wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot—if rioting be committed; if not committed.—Whoever malignantly, or wantonly by doing anything which is illegal, gives provocation to any person intending or knowing it to be likely that such provocation will cause the offence of rioting to be committed, shall, if the offence of rioting be committed in consequence of such provocation, be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both; and if the offence of rioting be not committed, with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine, or with both.”
Similarly Section 153A of the Act prescribes that “Promoting enmity between different groups on ground of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony.—(1) Whoever— (a) by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise, promotes or attempts to promote, on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste or community or any other ground whatsoever, disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill will between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities, or
(b) commits any act which is prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities, and which disturbs or is likely to disturb the public tranquillity, [or]
(c) organizes any exercise, movement, drill or other similar activity intending that the participants in such activity shall use or be trained to use criminal force or violence or knowing it to be likely that the participants in such activity will use or be trained to use criminal force or violence, or participates in such activity intending to use or be trained to use criminal force or violence or knowing it to be likely that the participants in such activity will use or be trained to use criminal force or violence, against any religious, racial, language or regional group or caste or community and such activity for any reason whatsoever causes or is likely to cause fear or alarm or a feeling of insecurity amongst members of such religious, racial, language or regional group or caste or community,] shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.
(2) Offence committed in place of worship, etc.—Whoever commits an offence specified in sub-section (1) in any place of worship or in any assembly engaged in the performance of religious worship or religious ceremonies, shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to five years and shall also be liable to fine.”
Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code states “Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.—Whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of 7 [citizens of India], 8 [by words, either spoken or written, or or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise], insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to 9 [three years], or with fine, or with both”.
In the instant case, Rana Ayyub’s false tweet of a doctored video without looking at the truth of the matter or even enquiring about the same shows the intent of the alleged Journalist to spread disharmony and incite violence and feelings of hate between the two communities and this action is duly covered under Section 153 and Section 153A(a) and 153A (b) and Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code 1860.
Rana Ayyub is liable to face investigation for her acts as they have led to the incitement of violence and public disharmony in the region and both these fall under the exceptions to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution.
If she feels that she has not committed an offence, she can produce proof for the same during the enquiry and will be given a chance to be heard in the trial with regard to the same. So, instead of accusing the government of curbing free speech, she should rather take a look back at her actions which are in clear violation of the Indian Penal Code and also fall as exceptions for free speech.
Your freedom ends where the other person’s begins and the people of the region of Loni have the right to life in a safe environment with dignity and the actions of Rana Ayyub clearly disturb both safety and dignity of the people of the region as she has acted in a manner that has potential to incite violence in the region.
Rana Ayyub should assist the investigation instead of accusing the government and the law enforcement agencies. In a country run by the rule of law, this is the least that can be expected from ‘journalists’.
(Shubhendu Anand is an advocate, practicing in the Supreme Court of India. The views expressed here are his personal opinion.)