Permitting journalist Rana Ayyub, who was last week stopped from flying to London from the Mumbai International Airport, to travel abroad, the Delhi High Court on Monday said that the lookout circular against her by the Enforcement Directorate was issued in haste and “despite absence of any precondition necessitating such a measure”.
“The impugned LOC is accordingly liable to be set aside as being devoid of merits as well as for infringing the human right of the Petitioner to travel abroad and to exercise her freedom of speech and expression,” said the court, while setting aside the LOC .
Justice Chandra Dhari Singh said that a LOC is a coercive measure to make a person surrender and interferes with Ayyub’s right of personal liberty and free movement. It is to be issued in cases where the accused is deliberately evading summons or arrest or where such person fails to appear in Court despite a Non-Bailable Warrant, the court added.
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“In the instant case, there is no contradiction by the respondent to the submission of the petitioner that she has appeared on each and every date before the Investigating Agency when summoned, and hence, there is no cogent reason for presuming that the Petitioner would not appear before the Investigation Agency and hence, no case is made out for issuing the impugned LOC,” it said further.
Permitting Ayyub to travel abroad, the court said that she shall intimate her travel dates and detailed itinerary to the Investigation Agency forthwith along with the address of the places that she shall be visiting. She has also been directed to deposit an FDR to the tune of Rs 1 lakh before the ED at Mumbai and return to India on April 11.
“The petitioner shall give an undertaking to appear before the Investigation Agency immediately on her return and on dates that might be fixed by the Investigation Agency for interrogation, if any, after the travel period,” said the court.
Ayyub had challenged the lookout circular issued against her by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) which is investigating her in connection with a case of alleged money laundering. Advocate Vrinda Grover, representing Ayyub, submitted earlier that she is a prominent journalist “who speaks truth to power” and was being persecuted for it and for being critical of the “incumbent establishment”.
Grover submitted that there was nothing to suggest that she was evading the legal process as she had been in regular communication with ED. She has responded to each and every summons of the ED, the court was told.
Additional Solicitor General SV Raja, representing the ED, argued that Ayyub had misappropriated funds collected in the name of relief work and submitted fake bills. The central agency also claimed that if she is allowed to leave the country she will not come back.
The court was also told that her assets worth Rs 1.77 crore in connection with alleged irregularities have been attached. The ED also accused Ayyub of withholding documents. However, Grover submitted that all documents have been supplied and she has volunteered to appear before the ED.
The court said that it is an admitted fact that she has duly reported before the ED whenever she has been asked to appear. Questioning ED’s argument that she is only making a show of cooperation, the court asked then why she has not been arrested.
“She is not charged for 1000 crores… must be 10 crores, 20 crores. (You have) already frozen her account,” said Justice Singh during the hearing.
In the petition before the court, Ayyub had said that almost two hours after she was detained at the airport, the ED emailed summons to her directing her to remain present before it on April 01. The information sought in the summons is a “verbatim copy ” of the information already sought in the summons dated January 25 and is a “sham exercise” to justify the arbitrary action of denying her the right to travel, the petition argued.
Ayyub said that she was scheduled to speak at a journalism-related event in London and then fly to Italy regarding gender-based online violence faced by women journalists globally.
The ED had registered a case against Ayyub in connection with the funds collected by her through the Ketto platform to help people during the pandemic, and has accused her of not utilizing the funds completely for the purpose they were raised.