Sharing a satirical cartoon on Facebook regarding the controversy over judge BH Loya’s death has cost a senior journalist dearly. He has been booked for sedition.
Kamal Shukla, who has been a journalist for three decades and lives in Kanker, Chhattisgarh, now has a case registered against him under Section 124 (A) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) in Kanker police station.
The cartoon that landed him in trouble pertained to the Supreme Court’s refusal to order a probe into the death of special CBI judge Loya. The late judge was hearing the case of Sohrabuddin Sheikh’s alleged fake encounter in Gujarat in 2005. National president of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the then home minister of Gujarat, Amit Shah, was accused of orchestrating the encounter in connivance with senior police officials.
Documentary evidence attributes Loya’s death in December 2014 to cardiac arrest. However, in a magazine article last year, the judge’s family expressed suspicion of foul play. This gave rise to conspiracy theories that his death too was orchestrated to cover up the fake encounter case. Within a month of Loya’s death, the special CBI court gave a clean chit to Shah, citing that no evidence was found against him.
On April 19, the apex court dismissed a batch of petitions that sought an independent probe into Loya’s death. Disagreeing with the court’s observations, a few articles and cartoons cropped up on the internet, lamenting the alleged miscarriage of justice. The next day, Shukla shared one such cartoon on his Facebook wall. It depicted that the BJP and its ideological parent Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh were behind the SC’s verdict.
A resident of Rajasthan, Puneet Jangir, saw the cartoon on Shukla’s wall and filed a complaint about it with the President of India. The President’s office shot off a letter to Chhattisgarh government and Shukla was duly booked for sedition.
What sedition is
IPC’s Section 124 (A) states: “Whoever by words, either spoken or written or by signs, or by visible representation or otherwise brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government established by law in India, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine.”
Shukla’s advocate Kishore Narayan informed that he has approached Chhattisgarh High Court, seeking interim relief and a stay on the arrest. He stressed that Shukla’s post did not provoke any violence at all. Further, he pointed out that the SC itself has clarified what does not amount to sedition:
‘How’s it anti-national’
Shukla said only those who love democracy will express their discontent at the weakening of its agencies. He referred to the high-profile January press conference of four senior SC judges, wherein they had stated that democracy was at stake owing to maladministration in the apex court. Their discontent with the hearing of petitions about judge Loya’s death had prompted them to hold the press meet, which was an unprecedented event. Shukla said the seniormost judges of the land’s top court have thus accorded the right to citizens to question the judiciary and the government.
He said that he had shared the cartoon in the same vein, with the mere intention of saving the judiciary. He added, “Toh yeh deshdroh kaise ho sakta hai! Balki, mere hisaab se woh saare log deshdrohi hain jinhe vartmaan stithi mein nyaypalika par sarkaari dabaav aur blackmail ki koi chinta hi nahi hai.” (So how can this be anti-national! In fact, I believe all those who are unconcerned about the government influencing the judiciary are anti-nationals.)
Shukla, 50, used to bring out a newspaper, called Bhoomkaal. He has written extensively about human rights violation, tribal rights, protection of journalists and fake encounters during the anti-Naxal operations. He was also the chairman of Patrakar Suraksha Kanoon Sangharsh Samiti (committee for journalist protection law), which was set up to demand a law for the safety of journalists. Journalism in the state’s Naxal-infested region and news reports about alleged police atrocities earn the scribes the ire of the police and the administration.
Shukla’s lawyer also highlighted that the state government has, at times, found itself in trouble owing to his reportage.
The journalist protection committee, which was formed in 2016, has been dormant. It comprises the home secretary, the secretary of general administration department, the director of public relations department, ADG CID and two senior journalists.
Chhattisgarh-based senior journalist Alok Putul, who writes for the BBC, said that be it Aseem Trivedi (he was arrested for sedition in September 2012 for his political cartoons) or Shukla, the government has been conveniently muting dissent by employing the sedition law. He called it a nasty blow to the freedom of expression and a massive misuse of law.
Meanwhile, Chhattisgarh home minister Ramsewak Paikra said nobody is above the law, even if they are a journalist. He said the police and the judiciary should be allowed to look into the matter. Kanker police said they are investigating the case.
Vandana Agarwal is a Raipur-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.