Supreme Court reserves verdict on plea of Marunadan Malayalee editor Shajan Skariah seeking pre-arrest bail

The court said the case under the SC/ST Act was not made out and moreover, the defamation is a bailable and non-cognisable offence.

BySouth First Desk

Published May 15, 2024 | 6:04 PMUpdatedMay 15, 2024 | 6:04 PM

Shajan Skariah, Editor of Marunadan Malayali. (Sourced)

The Supreme Court on Wednesday, 15 May, reserved its verdict on a plea of Shajan Skariah, who runs the YouTube channel Marunadan Malayali, challenging the denial of anticipatory bail to him by the Kerala High Court in a criminal case lodged by MLA PV Sreenijin.

Sreenijin had lodged an FIR for offences under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act against Skariah alleging that he had intentionally humiliated the lawmaker by making false allegations and accusations through a video uploaded on ‘Marunadan Malayali’.

A bench comprising justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra heard submissions and counters from senior lawyers Siddharth Luthra and PV Dinesh, who represented the accused and the lawmaker respectively. Dinesh said there were 2.9 million followers on the YouTube channel and the lawmaker was being humiliated with malicious intent.

Luthra, on the other hand, said a case under the SC/ST Act was not made out and moreover, the defamation is a bailable and non-cognisable offence.

“We are reserving the order,” Justice Pardiwala said.

Also Read: Delhi HC orders Shajan Skariah to take down defamatory content against LuLu Group founder

Lower courts’ decisions

As per the case registered by Kerala Police, Skariah telecasted a news item regarding the alleged maladministration of a sports hostel in Kochi by Sreenijan in his capacity as the chairman of the District Sports Council.

The Special Judge for SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, Honey M Varghese, found the allegations to be insulting and defamatory.

The court found that Skariah knew that the de facto complainant belonged to a Scheduled Caste community and that the publication of the news item containing derogatory comments through his YouTube channel was sufficient to attract the offence alleged under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989.

The Kerala High Court dismissed his appeal. The single judge bench of Justice VG Arun observed while passing the order: “It is pertinent to note that the allegations levelled against the second respondent include murder and contain insinuation against the second respondent’s father-in-law, aspersions on unnamed judicial officers, and bestows the title ‘Mafia Don’ on the second respondent.”

It added: “As such, it can unhesitatingly be held that the video contains insults intended to humiliate the second respondent (MLA Sreenijan) in public view.”

The court also wondered whether journalism had become “defame, denigrate, damnify, and destroy”.

It was further alleged that the said news item promoted feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will against members of the scheduled caste or scheduled tribe. Section 3(1)(r) of the Act provides that, “whoever, not being a member of a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe, intentionally insults or intimidates with intent to humiliate a member of a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe in any place within view, shall be punished”.

Also Read: Kerala politicians stand by Mammootty in online harassment over ‘Puzhu’

The case

In July last year, a Supreme Court bench, comprising Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud and Justice PS Narasimha, granted him interim protection from arrest, overriding strong objections raised by the state.

Allowing a special leave petition filed by Skariah challenging the high court’s dismissal of his appeal, the Supreme Court bench had observed that the alleged derogatory remarks made by Skariah against Sreenijan would not come under the purview of the Act.

The court observation was a severe reprimand to the state government, which was accused of slapping false charges under the SC/ST Act against Skariah because of a vendetta against him by a set of senior ruling front leaders, including PV Anvar.

“Pending further orders, there shall be a stay of arrest,” ordered the bench while issuing notice on the special leave petition to the state government.

The FIR against Skariah was based on a complaint lodged by Sreenijan, against whom Skariah made some derogatory observations while telecasting a YouTube show on a corruption case allegedly involving the MLA.

“His statements may be defamatory, but these are not offences under the SC/ST Act. He may have said something against the father-in-law (of the complainant), judiciary, etc, which may be in bad taste,” the CJI was quoted as saying by Live Law.