"Issue notice. Further proceedings in pursuance to the FIRs are stayed," bench said in its order.
The Supreme Court Friday stayed further proceedings in three FIRs lodged in West Bengal against some persons, including editors of a news web portal, regarding articles published by them.
The top court also issued notices to the West Bengal government and the Centre seeking their replies on a plea filed by Nupur J Sharma, the editor of English language Opindia.com, and others including its founder and CEO.
"Issue notice. Further proceedings in pursuance to the FIRs are stayed," a bench comprising Justices SK Kaul and BR Gavai said in its order.
The bench was hearing a petition filed by Sharma and others including the founder and CEO of news portal and editor of its Hindi language publications who have claimed that the West Bengal government and its "authoritarian Kolkata Police" is misusing FIRs and "brute police-powers" to intimidate journalists.
The petitioners were represented in the top court by senior advocate Mahesh Jethmalani and lawyer Sandeep Kapur.
"The petitioners are constrained to invoke the extra-ordinary writ jurisdiction of this court under Article 32 of the Constitution against the patently extortionist and mala fide actions of the Government of West Bengal to impose illegal censorship in the state by threatening, scuttling, and gagging honest media houses through misuse of state police," the plea claimed.
The petitioners claimed they were informed that cause of one of the FIRs lodged by police was an article published by the news web portal on the issue of alleged hiding of data related to COVID-19.
The plea claimed that one of the FIRs lodged pertained to news report published by the web portal in October last year.
It alleged that to undermine the freedom of press, the state has rather chosen to "hound down" the petitioners by registering multiple FIRs in order to "bargain for deletion of news articles by putting the petitioner's life and liberty at bait".
It claimed the state and the police are not only intimidating the journalists, but also threatening their family members to seek deletion of media reports which bring to the public notice "the actual state of affairs in the state of West Bengal during these difficult times".
The plea alleged that while the authorities are using FIRs to "scuttle free speech" and issuing notices to the petitioners, the police has despite repeated requests refused to share the copy of these FIRs or to upload the same on their official website.
"What is glaring is the manner in which the powers under the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) and the investigative powers of the police, are being blatantly misused by the state of West Bengal (Respondent No. 1) to scuttle and silence bonafide but critical instances of journalism, capable of causing inconvenience to its political executives, in total disregard to the constitutional guarantees contained in Articles 19(1)(a) and 21 of the Constitution," it said.
It alleged that the police had intimidated some of the petitioners to get the news articles deleted.
"Accordingly, the officers while insulting and demeaning the petitioner no. 1, asked her to use her influence to get the articles removed or to face the brunt of state's political executives," it claimed.
The plea claimed that deleting any content from the internet has a nationwide effect and any decision to delete any content has to be left to be taken by the Centre and not by state governments.
It has also sought a direction to exclude the role of police in the matter of deletion of content on the internet "particularly since there exists regulatory mechanism for overseeing such content" and restricting any mischievous contents.