The Kerala High Court ruled on Monday that the police cannot seize a journalist's phone simply because it contains information about a crime, reported Bar and Bench.
Justice PV Kunhikrishnan said that journalists receive information about various crimes, but this alone cannot justify seizing their phones.
The court was hearing a petition filed by G Vishakan, a journalist for a Malayalam newspaper. Vishakan claimed that the police had harassed him in connection with a case against Shajan Skaria, the editor of a news website called Marunadan Malayali.
Skaria was charged under the provisions of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Act for airing news that allegedly defamed Communist Party of India (Marxist) MLA PV Sreenijan.
Vishakan testified in court that his phone was seized by police even though he was not an accused in the case involving Skaria and that there was no incriminating evidence against him.
Vishakan had told the court that his only connection to Skaria was the occasional exchange of news for remuneration. He also sought legal action against the officer who had carried out searches at his home.
What did the court say?
During the hearing on Monday, Justice Kunhikrishnan stated that journalists are part of the "fourth estate," and that if their mobile phone is required in connection with a case, the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) must be followed, reported news agency PTI.
“There is an allegation in this case to the effect that the petitioner and even his family members are harassed. That can’t be allowed," he said.
The judge ordered the police to file a statement outlining the circumstances surrounding Vishakan's mobile phone seizure. The case will be heard on July 21.
SC grants protection to Shajan Skaria
In a separate development, the apex court granted protection from arrest to Skaria on Monday.
He had approached the Supreme Court after his anticipatory bail pleas were rejected by a lower court and the Kerala High Court.
A bench of Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice PS Narasimha issued a notice to the Kerala government and others on the appeal filed by Skaria.
“Pending further orders, there shall be a stay of arrest,” the bench said.