The case stems from an article accusing Justice S Muralidhar of bias for granting relief to activist Gautam Navlakha in the Bhima Koregaon case.
The Kashmir Files director Vivek Agnihotri has tendered an “unconditional apology” to the Delhi High Court for making contemptuous remarks against Justice S Muralidhar after the judge had quashed the house arrest and transit remand of activist Gautam Navlakha in the 2018 Bhima Koregaon violence case.
The contempt case listed at least 23 respondents of which six, including Agnihotri, have apologised so far. It is not yet clear if the filmmaker, like the others, will have to post his unconditional apology on social media as well.
The case stems from an article written by one Desh Kapoor, published on a website called Drishtikone, and republished or retweeted by Agnihotri, Swarajya, RSS ideologue S Gurumurthy and TV panellist Anand Ranganathan. The article accused Justice Muralidhar – then associated with the Delhi High Court and now chief justice of the Orissa High Court – of exercising bias while approving Navlakha’s bail. Gurumurthy and Desh Kapoor have already tendered their apologies.
The Delhi High Court took up the case suo motu in October 2018 on the basis of communication received from senior advocate Rajshekhar Rao. It noted that “there exists a prima facie case for issuance of notice for criminal contempt of court to the author of the article/makers of the statements and those who are responsible for making/uploading the video levelling scandalous allegations against a sitting judge of this court”.
In September this year, a bench of Justices Siddharth Mridul and Talwant Singh ordered that proceedings against Agnihotri and other respondents, including Ranganathan and Swarajya, proceed ex parte as nobody had appeared on their behalf over four years. It is understood that in today’s submission, Agnihotri has asked the court to recall the ex parte order against him so that he could participate in future hearings.
Ranganathan declined to respond when Newslaundry asked if he would seek to participate in further proceedings like Agnihotri.
The others against whom ex parte proceedings were initiated are The Goa Spotlight, News & Views, and two Twitter users – Sanjeev Goyal and Debjani Chatterjee. All of them have been served notices.
Swarajya was represented initially but on May 21, 2019, the magazine’s lawyers – Mohit Mugdal and Somya Sud – sought discharge because its board of directors “were unable to proceed with the present advocates”. The magazine discharged the lawyers on May 1, 2019.
Today, the court also told Agnihotri’s lawyer to ensure that he appears in person during the next hearing on March 16 next year to tender his apology. The controversial tweet is not available on Agnihotri’s account any more but it is not clear whether the tweet was deleted by Agnihotri or by Twitter. According to Mohammed Zubair of Alt News, many of the tweets in Agnihotri’s contemptuous thread were withheld in India by the social media company in response to a legal demand.
While some tweets linking Muralidhar and Navlakha have been withheld in India in response to a “legal demand”, many others are still available. The link to the article on Drishtikone has been taken down, though.
The respondents in the case also included the intermediaries Google, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, Reddit, and Yahoo owner Oath Holdings. The intermediaries didn’t have to file any response on the merits of the case, but had to comply with the court’s directions. Since they took action in the case, the intermediaries were previously removed as respondents.
Newslaundry also reached out to Prasanna Vishwanathan, CEO and co-founder of Swarajya, and R Jagannathan, editorial director of Swarajya, for comment. We will update the report if we receive a response.
Update at 12.39 pm, Dec 7: In a tweet on Tuesday, Anand Ranganathan said that he will not apologise for his tweets supporting Vivek Agnihotri and S Gurumurthy since he is a “free speech absolutist”, “fundamentally" opposes the contempt of court charge and hasn’t done "anything wrong". He said that Twitter unilaterally withheld his tweets and that he had not received any notices in the case.
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