AP HC Gag Order Diminishes Freedom Of Speech, Amounts to Judicial Overreach

The Human Rights Forum (HRF) takes strong exception to the September 15 interim order of the Andhra Pradesh High Court restraining publication of the contents of the First Information Report (FIR) filed by the AP Anti-Corruption Bureau in a corrupt practices case allegedly involving a former Advocate General of the State and close relatives of a serving Supreme Court judge.

The AP HC order directed that no electronic or print media as well as social media platforms publish anything with relation to the FIR in the crime No.08/RCO-ACB-GNT/2020. The order is most unfortunate. The direction amounts to a blanket diktat restraining the media and clearly deprives citizens of their right to obtain information about matters of public importance. The right to know and freedom of speech and expression are vital components in a democracy. This HC order diminishes such freedoms and undermines the fundamental freedom of the Press and expression.

The Supreme Court has on several occasions in the past restricted publication so as to guard against prejudice to a fair trial or investigation and to ensure that the administration of justice is not compromised. Most of these orders by the apex court were temporary in nature.

In the Sahara India Real Estate Corporation v Securities and Exchange Board of India case, the Court ordered postponement of publication only to prevent interference in the administration of justice. It held that the order of postponement was only appropriate in cases where the balancing test otherwise favoured non-publication for a limited period, and that such restrictions were also within the purview of reasonable restrictions under Article 19(2). In earlier orders – the Reliance Petrochemicals vs Indian Express and Naresh Mirajkar vs Govt of Maharashtra for instance – the apex court spelt out injunctions on publication because it felt that it would interfere with the court process.

However, in the present case there are no such considerations that merit restrictions and in that sense this is an unprecedented order. The matter relates to allegations of corruption in respect of land dealings and linked to insider information so as to gain undue pecuniary advantage in the Amaravati area of Guntur district. This is a case of alleged abuse of power at the highest levels for purchasing land and benefitting private parties. It is a matter of public importance about which media coverage and public scrutiny are of immense importance. There is no material whatsoever to justify the imposing of a gag order except an allegation by the former Attorney General that he is being subjected to political vendetta. The High Court’s interim order imposing blanket restrictions on any reportage amounts to judicial overreach, is legally untenable and totally uncalled for.

We hope that the Court would reconsider its decision and lift this censorship soon in the interests of democracy.

Ruling party functionaries in Andhra Pradesh have been invoking Press freedom while taking exception to the HC order. This is like the devil quoting scriptures. We wish to remind this government that it issued a GO (2430) on October 30 last year that undermines Press freedom and is tailor made for abuse. It is intended to harass and browbeat media that is not parroting the official narrative. This GO led to widespread criticism but has not yet been revoked.

VS Krishna 
(HRF TS & AP Coordination Committee member)

K Sudha
(HRF AP State general secretary)


Related Posts

Scroll to Top