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BBC documentary row: SC issues notice to Centre, seeks report within 3 weeks

Even if the contents of the documentary and its viewership/discussion thereupon is unpalatable to the powers that be, it is no ground to curtail the freedom of speech and expression of the petitioners, the plea added.

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday issued notice to the Centre and sought its response to a plea seeking direction to restrain the Central government from censoring the BBC documentary relating to the 2002 Gujarat Riots.

A bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and MM Sundresh asked the Central government to file its response within three weeks and posted it for hearing in April.

The bench refused to pass interim order on the plea saying it cannot pass any interim order without hearing the government and directed it to produce all records on the next hearing date.

“We direct respondents to produce original records on the next date of hearing,” the bench stated in its order.

Senior advocate CU Singh appearing for Trinamool Congress Member of Parliament (MP) Mahua Moitra, senior journalist N Ram, and advocate Prashant Bhushan told the bench the IT Rules mandate the publication of the emergency blocking orders within 48 hours.

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The Centre on the basis of the secret order blocked the documentary and on the basis of this secret order, universities are taking action against students for screening the documentary, Singh said.

Justice Khanna said, “It is also a fact that people have been accessing those videos.”

Singh sought a shorter date for the case, the bench, however, declined his request.

The apex court also issued notice to the Centre on a PIL filed by advocate ML Sharma challenging Central government orders to block the documentary.

The PIL filed by advocate Sharma also urged the apex court to call and examine the BBC documentary – both parts I and II – and sought action against persons who were responsible and were involved directly and indirectly with the 2002 Gujarat riots.

The petition filed by N Ram and others sought direction to quash all orders which directly and indirectly block the online access to BBC’s documentary “India: The Modi Question”.

Their plea termed the Centre’s decision to block the documentary as “manifestly arbitrary” and “unconstitutional”.

The petitioners further sought restoration of their tweets sharing the links of the documentary, which were taken down by Twitter following Centre’s orders.

The right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed to citizens by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution also includes the “right to receive and disseminate information”, the plea stated.

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Even if the contents of the documentary and its viewership/discussion thereupon is unpalatable to the powers that be, it is no ground to curtail the freedom of speech and expression of the petitioners, the plea added.

As per the sources, on January 21, the Centre issued directions for blocking multiple YouTube videos and Twitter posts sharing links to the controversial BBC documentary.

Hindu Sena President Vishnu Gupta has also filed a PIL in the apex court seeking to impose a complete ban on BBC’s documentary.

The PIL also sought direction from the National Investigating Agency to initiate an investigation against the anti-India and anti-Indian-government reporting/documentary films/short films including its employee journalist in India and to submit an inquiry report before the apex court.

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