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SC orders release of NewsClick founder, holds arrest 'invalid'

Source: PTI   -  Edited By: Utkarsh Mishra
Last updated on: May 15, 2024 20:53 IST
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More than seven months after he was arrested under anti-terror law Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for allegedly spreading Chinese propaganda, the Supreme Court on Wednesday declared as "invalid" the arrest of NewsClick founder Prabir Purkayastha and ordered his release.

IMAGE: NewsClick founder and editor-in-chief Prabir Purkayastha being produced before the Patiala House court, in New Delhi on October 25, 2023. Photograph: ANI Photo

Purkayastha was arrested on October 3 last year by the Special Cell of the Delhi police in a case lodged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. 

Observing that the right to life and personal liberty was the "most sacrosanct" fundamental right guaranteed under Articles 20, 21 and 22 of the Constitution, the apex court said any person arrested over allegations of commission of offences under UAPA or other offences has a fundamental and a statutory right to be informed about the grounds of arrest in writing.


A bench of Justices BR Gavai and Sandeep Mehta said a copy of such written grounds of arrest have to be furnished to the arrested person as a "matter of course and without exception at the earliest".

"From the detailed analysis made above, there is no hesitation in the mind of the court to reach to a conclusion that the copy of the remand application in the purported exercise of communication of the grounds of arrest in writing was not provided to the accused appellant (Purkayastha) or his counsel before passing of the order of remand dated October 4, 2023 which vitiates the arrest and subsequent remand of the appellant," the bench said.

The top court delivered its verdict on Purkayastha's plea challenging the Delhi high court's October 13 last year order dismissing his petition against arrest and subsequent police remand.

In its verdict, the bench said, "Accordingly, the arrest of the appellant followed by remand order dated October 4, 2023 and so also the impugned order passed by the High Court of Delhi dated October 13, 2023 are hereby declared to be invalid in the eyes of law and are quashed and set aside".

"Though we would have been persuaded to direct the release of the appellant without requiring him to furnish bonds or security but since the charge sheet has been filed, we feel it appropriate to direct that the appellant shall be released from custody on furnishing bail and bonds to the satisfaction of the trial court," it said.

The bench said the purpose of informing the arrested person the grounds of arrest was salutary and sacrosanct as this information would be the only effective means for him to consult his advocate, oppose police custody remand, and to seek bail.

"Any other interpretation would tantamount to diluting the sanctity of the fundamental right guaranteed under Article 22(1) of the Constitution of India," it said.

The bench said the right to be informed about the grounds of arrest flows from Article 22(1) of the Constitution and any infringement of this fundamental right would vitiate the process of arrest and remand.

"Mere fact that a charge sheet has been filed in the matter, would not validate the illegality and the unconstitutionality committed at the time of arresting the accused and the grant of initial police custody remand to the accused," it observed.

The bench noted it has been the consistent view of the apex court that grounds on which liberty of a citizen is curtailed, must be communicated in writing so as to enable him to seek remedial measures against the deprivation of liberty.

"Hence, we have no hesitation in reiterating that the requirement to communicate the grounds of arrest or the grounds of detention in writing to a person arrested in connection with an offence or a person placed under preventive detention as provided under Articles 22(1) and 22(5) of the Constitution of India is sacrosanct and cannot be breached under any situation," it said.

The bench observed there was a significant difference in the phrase 'reasons for arrest' and 'grounds of arrest'.

"The 'reasons for arrest' as indicated in the arrest memo are purely formal parameters, viz., to prevent the accused person from committing any further offence; for proper investigation of the offence…," it noted.

The bench said the 'grounds of arrest' would be required to contain all such details in hand of the investigating officer which necessitated the arrest of accused.

It said the 'grounds of arrest' would invariably be personal to the accused and cannot be equated with the 'reasons of arrest' which are general in nature.

The apex court made it clear that none of the observations made by it in the verdict shall be treated as a comment on the merits of the case.

The high court had on October 13 last year dismissed the pleas of Purkayastha and NewsClick's human resources department head Amit Chakravarty against their arrest and subsequent police remand.

Chakravarty had earlier withdrawn from the Supreme Court his petition against his arrest under the anti-terror law, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. 

A Delhi court had in January allowed Chakravarty to turn an approver in the case lodged against the news portal under the UAPA over allegations that it received money to spread pro-China propaganda.

The judge had pardoned Chakravarty, who was arrested in the case on October 3, 2023, on his application that claimed he had material information which he was willing to disclose to the Delhi Police, which is investigating the matter.

According to the FIR, the news portal allegedly received huge amount of funds from China to "disrupt the sovereignty of India" and cause disaffection against the country.

Meanwhile, a Delhi court directed Purkayatha to not comment on the merits of the case or tamper with the evidence.

Additional sessions judge Hardeep Kaur imposed the condition while issuing the release order for Purkayastha in pursuance of the Supreme Court order.

The ASJ directed him to submit a personal bond of Rs 1 lakh and two sureties of like amount in the case lodged under the anti-terror law.

The judge directed Purkayastha to not contact any witnesses or approver Amit Chakravarty and to not leave the country without the prior permission of the court.

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Source: PTI  -  Edited By: Utkarsh Mishra© Copyright 2024 PTI. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of PTI content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent.
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