India’s top court issues notice to government over banned BBC documentary on Modi

India’s top court issues notice to government over banned BBC documentary on Modi
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

India’s Supreme Court has issued a notice to the federal government that blocked a BBC documentary on the 2002 Gujarat riots and the role of prime minister Narendra Modi.

The documentary titled “India: The Modi Question”, aired on 17 January, claimed that Mr Modi was “directly responsible” for the riots when he was the western state’s chief minister.

Blocking the film soon after its release, the federal government invoked emergency powers under the information and technology law, seeking the removal of clips from social media.

Hearing a petition challenging the ban, a Supreme Court bench of justices Sanjiv Khanna and MM Sundresh issued notices to the federal government and directed it to produce the original records relating to the takedown order in the next hearing scheduled for April.

The court was hearing a petition jointly filed by journalist N Ram, lawyer Prashant Bhushan and opposition Trinamool Congress Party lawmaker Mahua Moitra as well as another petition filed by advocate ML Sharma.

The court on Friday asked why the petitioners had not taken the matter to the high courts first.

One of the lawyers for the petitioners, Chander Uday Singh, said that the federal government had already transferred to itself petitions challenging the IT Rules.

He also informed the bench that the blocking order has been issued under the same rules and pointed out the Bombay and Madras High Courts have already stayed some provisions of the IT Rules.

The government had last month issued orders to both YouTube and Twitter to block content related to the BBC’s two-part documentary.

Mr Singh also asked for interim relief from the court citing action on university students seeking to screen the film.

Tense scenes were witnessed in several Indian universities where students attempted to hold screenings.

There was stone pelting at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University during the screening last week.

More than a dozen students were detained by police and classes were suspended at Jamia Milia Islamia University when authorities denied students permission to screen the film on campus.

The documentary was also reportedly screened at Hyderabad University and campuses in the Communist-ruled southern state of Kerala, despite warnings from BJP leaders.

The court however refused to comment on the action and called it a “separate issue”.

“That is a separate issue...we are more on the legal aspect”, Justice Khanna said.

Earlier the federal government had called the documentary a “propaganda piece” that shows “colonial mindset”.

The BBC defended its production and said that it has abided by the highest standards.

The documentary attempts to examine the prime minister’s relationship with Muslims, the country’s largest minority group.

In the first part it holds Mr Modi “directly responsible” for the violence in 2002 religious riots that left more than 1,000 people – most of them Muslims – dead in his state

Last year India’s Supreme Court gave Mr Modi a clean chit and dismissed a plea challenging the findings of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) report which cleared him as well as 62 other senior government officials in the riots.