The Supreme Court on Thursday ordered that Congress leader Pawan Khera, arrested by the Assam Police for his alleged remarks against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, be released on interim bail till February 28.
A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud said that upon being produced before the competent magistrate in Delhi, Khera would be released on interim bail.
"The above order will remain operational till Tuesday (February 28)," the bench, also comprising Justices M R Shah and P S Narasimha, said and listed the matter for February 27.
The apex court issued notices to the states of Assam and Uttar Pradesh seeking their responses on Khera’s plea seeking clubbing of multiple FIRs lodged against him at Assam, Lucknow and Varanasi for his alleged remarks against the prime minister.
Senior advocate A M Singhvi, appearing for Khera, said the Congress leader had apologised for his remarks on the prime minister on the very same day and the offences alleged against him in these FIRs do not require arrest.
He said the choice of words used and the sections invoked against him do not match the offences alleged.
"It will have straightaway impact on the latitude of free speech," Singhvi said.
Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati, appearing for the Assam Police, played the audio-video clip of the alleged remarks in the open court and said Khera cannot use such "derogatory words" against a democratically elected prime minister of the country.
Bhati told the court that Khera has been arrested and will be produced before a competent magistrate during the day for transit remand.
The top court took up the matter at 3 pm, within an hour of Singhvi mentioning it for urgent listing.
Earlier in the day, Khera was arrested at the Delhi airport after being deplaned from a flight to Raipur in connection with his alleged remarks against Modi, made at a press conference on February 17 at Mumbai. The Delhi Police said he was detained at the request of the Assam Police.
Khera, against whom a case has been registered in Assam, was asked by the Delhi Police to deplane. Congress leaders accompanying him sat on the tarmac in protest and resisted efforts to take him away without an arrest warrant.
Senior Delhi Police officials later handed them a document from the Assam Police seeking their help in arresting Khera.
Congress leader Randeep Surjewala accompanied Khera to a police station at the airport where there was a huge deployment of CISF.
A case has been registered at Haflong police station in Assam against Khera under various sections of the IPC for his alleged remarks against the prime minister.
"We are all on the @IndiGo6E flight 6E 204 to Raipur and all of a sudden my colleague @Pawankhera has been asked to deplane," Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate, who was also on the flight, said on Twitter.
"What sort of high handedness is this? Is there any rule of law? On what grounds is this being done and under whose order?" she said.