SC agrees to hear plea challenging Centre's decision to ban BBC documentary

Ban BBC documentary

The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear a February 6 PIL challenging the Centre's decision to ban a controversial BBC documentary on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the 2002 Gujarat riots.

Lawyer ML Sharma filed a petition calling the ban on "India: The Modi Question" abusive, arbitrary, and unconstitutional.

A separate petition filed by senior journalist N Ram and lawyer Prashant Bhushan seeking the removal of tweets containing links to a BBC documentary will also be heard on Monday.

A bench comprising Chief Justice of India (CJI) DY Chandrachud and Justices P S Narasimha and JB Pardiwala took note of petitions by ML Sharma and senior advocate CU Singh seeking expedited listing of their separate PILs on the matter.

The Center recently directed social media sites Twitter and YouTube to block links to the documentary. The Foreign Office trashed the documentary as a "propaganda piece" that lacks objectivity and reflects colonial thinking. The documentary questions the attitude of Narendra Modi, who was the Chief Minister of Gujarat at the time, towards the riots.

At the beginning of the trial, lawyer Sharma, who personally filed the PIL, mentioned the reason and said that people are being arrested. "It will be listed on Monday," the CJI said.

Senior Advocate CU Singh referred the case of Ram and Bhushan to a separate plea. He mentioned how Ram and Bhushan's tweets were allegedly deleted using emergency powers. He also said that the students of Ajmer were real for the live coverage of the BBC documentary. "We will enumerate," the CJI said.

The PIL urged the Supreme Court to summon and probe the BBC documentary - both Part I and Part II - and sought action against those directly or indirectly involved in the 2002 Gujarat riots.

“This cause of action arose for the petitioner on 21 January 2023 when the respondent invoked Rule 16 of the IT Rule 2021 which prohibits citizens of India from watching a BBC documentary containing/revealing the real facts of the 2002 Gujrat riots. Citizen of India 2002 without passing constitutional ordinances which seriously harm the constitutional system of India and cannot be rectified without repeal," the petition said. It was argued that the ban violates freedom of speech and expression under Article 19 (1) (a). The suit also concerns those responsible for the Gujarat riots.

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