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Court partially lifts gag order on 'The Wire' in Jay Shah defamation case

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Court partially lifts gag order on The Wire in Jay Shah defamation case
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An Ahmedabad civil court on Saturday vacated an ex parte interim injunction imposed on news website The Wire for its article on the 'dramatic increase' in revenues of the company owned by the son of Bharatiya Janata Party President Amit Shah the year after Narendra Modi became prime minister in 2014.

The court, however, restrained the Wire from directly or indirectly linking the article with Prime Minister Narendra Modi till the final disposal of the defamation suit filed by Jay Shah.

The court had imposed a gag order on The Wire, barring it from publishing any content “directly or indirectly” related to Jay Shah or his Temple Enterprises. The Wire had filed a petition against the injunction, arguing that it “represented an unconstitutional restriction on the freedom of the press”, and that the article mentioned “nothing defamatory” as it was based entirely on public records.

The Fourth Additional Civil Judge, Mirzapur, Ahmedabad, Badri Kamalkumar Dasondi passed a 26-page order on an application filed by Jay Shah in connection with his Rs 100-crore defamation case against The Wire in October. On November 28, the Gujarat High Court had rejected The Wire’s plea against the gag order and asked it to approach the Ahmedabad civil court that issued the order. The lower court had reserved its verdict in the case on December 17.

The Wire article had alleged Jay Shah's businesses saw an increase "since Narendra Modi became Prime Minister' and that the "turnover of the company owned by Shah's son increased 16,000 times over in the year following the election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi."

The court observed that The Wire had failed to show any "direct or indirect nexus of association with the Honourable Prime Minister as regards to the increase in the businesses of the plaintiff. The defendants have failed to show, rather no justification has been placed for relating it to the election of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister. Hence at this juncture, the same needs to be restrained qua that position."

The court also observed that a true press "is duty-bound to narrate a clear picture of facts" and the article was based on data accessed from the records of the Registrar of Companies which were available in the public domain. The plaintiff had neither denied nor questioned the facts in the reports obtained through the Registrar of Companies, nor has he objected to the publication of the data.

"When the defendants have published the rticle on the basis of facts collected from a public record, the same can be termed to be enshrined in Article 21 of our Constitution", the court said and referred to judicial precedents that the said article includes the citizens' right to know in a free democracy.

Going back on its earlier order, the civil court on Saturday ruled that barring the use of the words “Narendra Modi becoming prime minister/elected prime minister” in relation to any debate on the original article on Jay Shah, The Wire is free to publish content on his business and public activities.

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