Media can’t disclose survivors’ identity even indirectly, says Bombay HC
The Aurangabad bench of the Bombay high court (HC) last week issued additional restraints on print and electronic media to ensure that the identity of rape or child abuse survivors is not disclosed indirectly by publishing details of their parents, address or name of school.
Acting in a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by the mother of a rape survivor from Ahmednagar, the division bench of justice TV Nalawade and justice MG Sewlikar restrained the media from also publishing the names of parents of the survivors, their residential or office addresses, name of the educational institute where the survivor studies, or the survivor’s relationship with the accused, in case they are related.
The bench issued the guidelines after noticing that although Section 228 (A) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) had provisions to penalise those disclosing the identities of rape survivors directly or indirectly and detailed guidelines were laid down by the Supreme Court (SC) in Nipun Saxena’s case in 2019, the identity of the petitioner was brought before HC.
The petitioner had brought newspaper cuttings to HC’s notice to point out how her name and detailed address, along with full particulars of the accused, were given out by local newspapers, while reporting the incident of kidnapping and rape of her daughter in 2011.
The petitioner had also pointed out recent newspaper reports regarding an offence registered by Ahmednagar police against an assistant police inspector for raping his sister-in-law. While reporting the incident, the newspapers had given details of the locality and residential address of the accused, revealing the identity of the survivor.
The court, therefore, found it necessary to issue further directions to ensure that identities of survivors of rape and child sexual abuse are not indirectly disclosed by anyone, especially the print and electronic media.
Besides, the court has also directed the lower courts conducting trials in rape and cases under provisions of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012, to conceal the name of the survivor, by referring to them with some abbreviations or letters such as “X”, while framing charges, recording statements or evidences of the survivor or of any other witness.
“The name, place of residence, age, occupation shall be kept in a sealed cover and in the name column, they can be referred in the same manner described while framing charge, keeping the address column, occupation column blank,” said the bench.
It has also directed police to avoid naming rape survivors under the Pocso Act and instead refer to them as “X” in remand reports forwarded to the jurisdictional magistrates or special courts.
Section 228A and the Nipun Saxena case
Section 228A of IPC prohibits printing or publishing the name or any matter which may reveal the identities of a rape accused and survivor and prescribes punishment of imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years and fine for revealing the identities. The section also forbids printing or publishing any matter relating to the trials in rape cases and prescribes the same punishment for doing so.
In Nipun Saxena’s case, the Supreme Court (SC) declared that “no person can print or publish in print, electronic, social media, etc. the name of victims in rape and Pocso Act cases or even in a remote manner disclose any facts which can lead to the victim being identified and which should make their identity known to the public at large.” In the same case, SC has also restrained the police from putting first information reports (FIRs) in rape and Pocso cases in public domain and mask the name of the victims whenever documents relating to these cases are required to be made public.