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Sandeshkhali: Calcutta HC grants bail to journalist, says press must be allowed to function freely

Santu Pan, who works for Republic Bangla news channel, was arrested on February 19 on the basis of a complaint by a woman alleging that he had trespassed into her house in Sandeshkhali.
Last Updated 22 February 2024, 08:11 IST

Kolkata: The Calcutta High Court on Thursday granted bail to a television journalist, who was arrested on duty at the restive Sandeshkhali, observing that the press must be allowed to function freely and independently, without any fear of reprisal or intimidation.

Santu Pan, who works for Republic Bangla news channel, was arrested on February 19 on the basis of a complaint by a woman alleging that he had trespassed into her house in Sandeshkhali.

Justice Kausik Chanda also stayed all proceedings in connection with the case against him at Sandeshkhali police station in North 24 Parganas district till disposal of his petition seeking quashing of the FIR.

The court noted that Sandeshkhali garnered public attention across the country over the assault of Enforcement Directorate (ED) officials allegedly by aides of Trinamool Congress leader Shajahan Sheikh on January 5.

Sandeshkhali has witnessed prolonged protests by local women alleging sexual atrocities at gunpoint by certain local political leaders and land grabbing of tribal people there, the Judge noted.

Justice Chanda observed that in the current situation in Sandeshkhali, the freedom of the press is crucial as it serves as the fourth pillar, alongside the executive, legislative, and judicial branches.

"This pillar must be allowed to function freely and independently, without any fear of reprisal or intimidation. It is through a free press that the public is informed and empowered, and that the government is held accountable," the court said.

Justice Chanda directed that Pan be released on bail upon furnishing a bond of Rs 500 with one surety of like amount.

He directed the state to file an affidavit-in-opposition to the journalist's prayer for quashing of the FIR against him within four weeks and a reply thereto, if any, may be filed by Pan within two weeks thereafter.

The court directed that the matter be listed for hearing after six weeks.

The court noted that following the complaint against Pan, the Sandeshkhali police station registered an FIR under various IPC sections, including 447 (criminal trespass), 354 (using criminal force with intention to outrage the modesty of a woman) and 506 (criminal intimidation).

Earlier, a Basirhat court turned down his bail prayer and granted police custody of Pan till February 23 on a prayer by the investigating officer, the Judge noted.

Pan moved the high court seeking that the proceedings against him in the case be quashed and also prayed for his release on bail.

Appearing for the petitioner, senior advocate Mahesh Jethmalani argued that the criminal proceeding against the journalist is maliciously instituted with an ulterior motive.

Opposing the prayers, state's Advocate General Kishore Dutta argued that a plain reading of the FIR discloses cognisable offence.

The Editors Guild of India had on Tuesday termed as "worrisome" the arrest of the on-duty television journalist.

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(Published 22 February 2024, 08:11 IST)

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