Sedition charges in AP: Tackling Hate Speech or an Act of censorship?

Democracy May 27, 2021

On May 14, MP Raghu Ramakrishna Raju was arrested by the Crime Investigation Department (CID) of Andhra Pradesh at his residence in Hyderabad. He is from the ruling Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP) in Andhra and is known to be very critical of his party leadership and policies. He would often go on Telugu news channels to discuss the mismanagement of the Covid-19 crisis and has accused the party of caste-based politics. On April 27, he asked a special CBI court to cancel the bail granted to CM Jagan Mohan Reddy in a disproportionate assets case (2012), stating he had violated bail provisions.

Raju’s arrest took place after the Additional DGP registered an FIR with the Mangalagiri CID Police under IPC Section 124(A) (sedition), Section 153(B) (committing offence that threatens the national integrity) and Section 505 (Public Mischief) read with 120(B) (criminal conspiracy). As per a statement released by the government, the Narsapuram MP was indulging in hate speech and creating tension between communities. He has previously been booked in cases of defrauding and defaulting by the CBI.

MP Raju was sent on a 14-day remand but his lawyers filed a Habeas Corpus petition in the High Court after he claimed to have been beaten in police custody. The High Court ordered a medical examination and a report on his injuries. Later a Supreme Court bench ordered to move him to Army Hospital in Secunderabad for another medical examination. Justice Saran asked for the examination to be video-graphed and for the MP to be kept under judicial custody at the hospital. On May 21, the SC bench observed that he might have been subject to custodial torture and granted him conditional bail, pointing out a recent bypass surgery he had undergone.

Meanwhile, two local news channels- ABN Andhra Jyothi and TV5 were also slapped with sedition after supposedly broadcasting “offending speeches” made by MP Raju. The channels have moved the Supreme Court against the FIR. They were charged for giving premeditated, organized slots to Mr Raju, but these claims have not been substantiated. TV5 contends that even otherwise, these acts cannot be deemed criminal since news organizations often host public figures at designated time slots.

ABN addressed the FIR as an attempt to browbeat the media and prevent them from covering issues of public importance. It claimed to have been targeted ever since YSRCP led by Reddy came into power; mentioning their broadcast in Andhra has been limited despite securing an order from the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT). Moreover, both channels had been taken off many cable TV networks across Andhra in 2019, without a reason or a 21-day notice, thus violating the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) protocol.

TV5 has filed a plea stating that other channels had also aired the speech but only they are being cornered. They have requested an order restraining any coercive action against them, adding that the FIR violates freedom of speech and expression.

Though the channels claim they are unbiased, Professor Nageshwar Rao disagrees. He states that Telugu media has a partisan trend but that one cannot stifle voices.

Are these sedition charges valid? Or are they breaching freedom of speech and expression? Tell us what you think.

This article has been written by Pravallika Manju for The Paradigm

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