The Supreme Court would hear a plea challenging the Centre’s decision to ban a BBC documentary on the 2002 Gujarat riots on Friday.
According to the cause list uploaded on the apex court website, a bench comprising justices Sanjiv Khanna and M.M. Sundresh will take up a petition filed by senior journalist N. Ram, Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra, and advocate Prashant Bhushan, and also another petition moved by advocate M.L. Sharma.
The documentary series, titled ‘India: The Modi Question’, has been dismissed as a biased “propaganda piece” by the government.
The plea filed by Sharma contended that the BBC documentary on Gujarat riots was released for public view. However, due to “fear of truth”, the documentary has been banned from viewership in India by any means under rule 16 of the IT Act 2021.
Sharma’s plea sought a direction for quashing of the January 21 order under the IT Act being illegal, malafide and arbitrary, unconstitutional and void ab-initio and ultra vires to the Constitution of India.
The documentary has been banned on social media and online channels, but some students have screened it on campuses of various universities across the country.
Sharma’s plea contended that the BBC documentary has reflected the true facts with original recordings of the victims of the 2002 riots as well as other concerned persons involved in the scenario of the riots, and it can be used for judicial justice.
A separate petition has been filed by journalist N. Ram, Trinamool MP Mahua Moitra, and advocate Prashant Bhushan against taking down their tweets with links to the documentary.
“The content of the BBC documentary and the tweets by Petitioner No. 2 (Bhushan) and 3 (Moitra) are protected under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India. The content of the documentary series do not fall under any of the restrictions specified under Article 19(2) or restrictions imposed under Section 69A of the IT Act, 2000,” said the plea filed by Ram and others.
The government has blocked sharing of any clips from the documentary on social media, prompting students’ organisations and opposition parties to organise its public screenings.
The plea by Ram and others argued that the apex court has categorically laid down that criticism of the government or its policies or even the judgment of the Supreme Court does not tantamount to violating the sovereignty and integrity of India.
“Censoring freedom of speech and expression of the petitioners by the executive through opaque orders and proceedings is manifestly arbitrary as it frustrates the fundamental right of the petitioners to effectively seek judicial review of administrative actions under Articles 226 and 32 of the Constitution of India in violation of the basic structure of the Constitution of India,” added the plea.