Congress leader Pawan Khera deplaned and arrested; Supreme Court grants interim bail 

The Supreme Court, on Thursday, ordered the Magistrate to release Congress party spokesperson Pawan Khera on interim bail till Tuesday in a case of denigrating the Prime Minister, a constitutional authority, during a press conference.

Khera was deboarded from a flight from Delhi to Raipur and detained. He is scheduled to be produced before the jurisdictional Magistrate later this evening.

A Special Bench led by CJI DY Chandrachud issued notice to Assam and Uttar Pradesh governments in a plea by Khera to transfer and club multiple FIRs registered against him in one jurisdiction. The Court listed the case for hearing on this point on Monday.

Chief Justice Chandrachud said some level should be maintained during public discourse.

The Court was shown the video of the press conference by Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati, appearing for Assam. Senior advocate A.M. Singhvi, for Khera, who is the chairperson of the media and publicity department of the All India Congress Committee, said the use of language by his client though inadvertent was erroneous.

Congress members stage a protest at the IGI Airport after party leader Pawan Khera was allegedly deboarded from a plane owing to an FIR against him in New Delhi

Singhvi said he himself would not stand by the use of such language during a public discourse. He said Khera has tendered his unconditional apology. His words were not meant to be personally offensive. He said the wrong sections have been applied against him. Offences which Khera has been booked under, if found guilty, would mean imprisonment of up to a minimum of three to five years.

Mr. Khera has been variously booked under IPC Sections 153A (promoting religious enmity), 153B (imputations or assertions prejudicial to national integration), 295A (outraging religious feelings), 500 (defamation), 504 (intentional insult to provoke breach of peace), 505 (statements amounting to public mischief), 120B (criminal conspiracy)in Uttar Pradesh and Assam.

Bhati countered that Khera’s verbal expressions in the video did not reveal that his words were unintentional. He has denigrated a constitutional authority, and “none less than the Prime Minister”, Bhati said.

Earlier in the day, Khera was reportedly de-boarded from the IndiGo flight 6E204 en route to Raipur on February 23. A delegation was headed from Delhi to Raipur, where the 85th plenary of the party is scheduled to commence on Friday. Supriya Shrinate, Randeep Singh Surjewala and K.C. Venugopal were the other Congress leaders accompanying him.

Khera said he was asked to de-board the plane for baggage reasons. “I don’t know why I have been de-planed. I was told that they need to check my baggage, I told them that I only have a handbag, but they still insisted that I leave the plane,” he said. “I have now been told that the DCP will meet me on tarmac.”

Meanwhile, the Congress party expressed chagrin at the “dictatorial” move. “This is a dictatorial attitude. The dictator got ED raids done before the session and now he has come down to this kind of act,” the Congress tweeted.

The incident signalled a “murder” of democratic India, senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh tweeted. “Freedom of Speech is slowly weakening in India, but Freedom AFTER Speech is fast becoming extinct. My colleague @Pawankhera was deplaned from a Raipur-bound flight. After ED raids, another attempt to derail Congress Plenary. Murder of Democratic India is the right acronym for Him,” he wrote.

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