The Supreme Court on Wednesday granted interim bail to Republic TV Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami over the 2018 abetment to suicide case.
The top court has also granted interim relief to two other accused, Nitish Sarda and Parveen Rajesh Singh, on a personal bond of Rs 50,000 each.
The SC has directed Maharashtra police to release all the three immediately.
"We don't want the release to be delayed and prison authorities should facilitate it," said the SC.
The apex court also said the three that they shall not tamper with evidence and cooperate in probe in abetment to suicide case.
The SC as part of its observations over the case said that it would be a travesty of justice if personal liberty of a person is curtailed like this.
A vacation bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and Indira Banerjee said if state governments target individuals, they must realise then that there is apex court to protect the liberty of citizens.
Arnab Goswami’s lawyer Harish Salve arguing the case said, “For abetment, there must be direct & indirect act of commission of offense. If a person commits suicide in Maharashtra & blames govt, will CM be arrested? Need to apply proximity test to prove abetment to suicide case."
The top court expressed concern over state governments targeting some individuals on the basis of ideology and difference of opinion.
During the hearing, senior advocate Harish Salve appearing for Goswami claimed his client was being targeted and listed various cases and actions against Goswami by the Maharashtra government and the police.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the Maharashtra government, asked how can bail be granted only on the basis of FIR.
"The FIR it is information, either you probe it or quash it. It is not an encyclopedia. An investigation is in progress. Today there is evidence on record. There cannot be a grant of bail without looking at the evidence. The court is not allowing us to file the papers. There is a judicial remand order. There is an investigation," he said.
Sibal said the court should wait for day after tomorrow and not lay down this precedence and added that when extraordinary orders are passed in extraordinary cases, it has repercussions.
"How do you decide the intention in a suicide case? Only on facts and evidence. This cannot be a principle that the Court will grant bail just reading the FIR, this principle will be followed in all High Courts. The investigation is going on. Remand is ordered. Now, the court cannot tell that read the FIR and see if offence made out to grant bail. It's a dangerous precedent," he added.
Sibal also mentioned that recently Siddiqui Kappan, a journalist from Kerala who went to cover the Hathras incident, was arrested by the Uttar Pradesh Police. Sibal said the journalist had approached the top court but was asked to go to the High Court and asked to come again if he does not get bail.
Appearing for Mumbai Police, senior advocate Amit Desai said if this court makes an exception, it will have grave ramifications on the administration of the criminal justice system.
"If every accused comes and says FIR does not disclose an offence and bail be granted then it will be a different situation of courts and it will disrupt the entire scheme of the criminal justice system," Desai said.
He also questioned why did Arnab Goswami not move a court to quash the FIR in 2018? Responding to it, Salve said it is being argued that a citizen's liberty is not important and procedural hierarchy has to be given importance.
"Goswami has been arrested on the basis of FIR. The magistrate has nothing more. They will do what they are doing in TRP scam case, they will get someone to make witnesses," he added.
Claiming that the re-investigation ordered by Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh was illegal and ultra vires, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for co-accused Nitesh Sarda, said a minister had no jurisdiction to sit over a court order.
Senior advocate CU Singh, appearing for victim Anvay Naik's wife, said they were never served the closure report on the investigation, which he claimed is mandatory, and added "we didn't know about it till May and only got to know about it through a tweet".
"The sentiments expressed by this court is to be cherished by all. But here it's not about Goswami but because of the fact that he has already moved a bail application yet to be heard. What kind of a message will it send and short circuit an entire process?" he pointed out.
Justice Chandrachud, during the hearing, observed that they are seeing dozens and dozens of cases where district courts, High Courts do not grant bail.
"If we as a constitutional court do not lay down law and protect liberty then who will? You may not like his (Arnab) ideology... But if a citizen is sent to jail, if High Courts don't grant bail. We have to send a strong message," Justice Chandrachud said.
"Our democracy is extraordinarily resilient. Governments must ignore all this. This is not the basis on which elections are fought," Justice Chandrachud said pointing out that a strong message needs to be sent if a state is targeting an individual.
Apart from seeking the interim bail, the journalist and other accused had also sought a direction from the high court for staying the investigation into the case and quash the FIR against them.
The high court will hear their pleas seeking to quash the FIR on December 10.
Goswami was arrested on November 4 from his Lower Parel residence in Mumbai and taken to Alibaug in neighbouring Raigad district.
He and the two other accused were later produced before a magistrate who refused to send them in police custody and remanded them in judicial custody till November 18.
The suicide case, in which a closure report was filed in 2019, was reopened after Naik's wife Akshata approached a court. In September this year, Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh had ordered a re-investigation into the case after a fresh complaint by Naik's daughter.
(With inputs from Agencies)