Bom HC | Threats by journalists who are reporters to publish news defaming a person amount to extortion

Bombay High Court: In an interesting case, M.G. Giratkar, J., maintained conviction of a journalist for the offence of extorting money from the complainant — an old man, around 72 years of age.

Sonba Bhaisare (complainant) sold certain land after getting it converted from agricultural to non-agricultural. It was alleged that the accused, a journalist by profession, met Sonba Bhaisare time and again and threatened him to publish reports against as the subject land was a bhoodan land and therefore the conversion was illegal. He also threatened to file a PIL and further threatened to make complaint to the Collector and get the houses built on the subject land demolished it. It was further alleged that the accused demanded Rs 50,000 to refrain from his activities which was agreed to by Sonba after initial reluctance. However, Sonba made a complaint to the Police who laid a trap and caught the accused taking an installment of Rs 10,000 from Sonba in a temple as agreed between them. Consequently, the accused was convicted under Sections 384 and 385 IPC by the trial court which was upheld by the first appellate court. Aggrieved thereby, the accused filed the present revision petition.

Noting all the facts of the case, the High Court was of the view that the trial court’s judgment needs to be upheld. Reflecting on the conduct of the accused, the Court stated, “intention of the accused is very clear to extract the money from the complainant and others. He was threatening them. Not only threatening but also filed PIL. Therefore, activities of the accused clearly show that he is a person who might have earned money by such tactics from various persons.” Observing that “all the illustrations to Section 384 show that even a threatening by journalists who are reporters to publish news in a newspaper to defame a person amounts to extortion”, the Court went to hold that the prosecution was able to prove the case against the accused beyond reasonable doubt and hence his conviction was maintained.

Lastly, regarding leniency in sentencing, the Court observed, “This type of crimes are increasing day by day, by threatening the officers or innocent persons. They are extracting money in the name of journalists. The accused has misused his position and threatened the complainant and purchasers, therefore, he is not entitled to any kind of leniency”. [Sharad Balkrushna Deotale v. State of Maharashtra, 2019 SCC OnLine Bom 305, dated 21-02-2019]

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