‘Sword of Damocles can’t hang over a journalist’: Mumbi HC stays FIRs against Arnab Goswami

In this photograph taken on April 26, 2017, Indian television journalist Arnab Goswami poses during an interview with AFP in Mumbai. - Arnab Goswami, India's most brash and controversial TV news anchor, renowned for his hectoring style on air, is about to launch a new channel and he's unapologetic about what viewers should expect. "I'm patriotic and nationalistic and so will the channel be," the 43-year-old tells AFP, in a mellow tone drastically different from his manner on-screen where he regularly shouts at guests. (Photo by Sujit JAISWAL / AFP) / To go with India-media-television-Goswami,INTERVIEW by Peter Hutchison

A big win for Arnab Goswami, the Bombay High Court Tuesday stayed two FIRs filed against him over alleged defamatory statements made against Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi and ‘communalising‘ a gathering of migrant workers in Mumbai’s Bandra in April.

The high court bench, comprising Justices Ujjal Bhuyan and Riyaz I. Chagla, observed: “We cannot have the spectacle of a Damocles’ sword hanging over the head of a journalist while conducting a public debate.”

The court also said no coercive steps will be taken against Goswami until his petition against the two FIRs is finally disposed of.

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“India is now a mature democracy. Seventy years into our republic we cannot be seen to be skating on thin ice so much so that mere mention of a place of worship will lead to animosity or hatred amongst religious communities causing upheaval and conflagration on the streets. Subscribing to such a view would stifle all legitimate discussions and debates in the public domain,” the court noted.

The first FIR accuses Goswami of using derogatory language against Gandhi and making “inflammatory statements” during discussions on the Palghar lynching incident in his channel on 16 April.

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The second FIR was filed by Irfan Abubakar Shaikh, secretary of the Raza Educational Welfare Society, and accuses Goswami of creating communal disturbance over the gathering of migrant workers in Bandra.

The Supreme Court had last month refused to transfer the two FIRs to the CBI from the Maharashtra Police. But the apex court had quashed the multiple FIRs, except for the first one mentioned above, that were filed against the journalist in connection with the debate on the Palghar incident.

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Goswami had approached the Bombay High Court demanding that the FIRs be quashed.

He has also challenged the constitutional validity of sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, resident, language etc), 153B(1) (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration) and 295A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting their religion) of the Indian Penal Code.

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