Sentencing of Mid-Day journalists condemned

Anita Joshua

NEW DELHI: Eminent academics and members of civil society on Saturday urged the Delhi High Court to immediately recall its order holding the editors, the publisher and the cartoonist of Mid-Day guilty of contempt of court.

On the allegations against the former Chief Justice of India Y. K. Sabharwal, and his orders for sealing commercial establishments in the Capital, they said only an investigation would “restore public confidence in the judiciary.”The statement comes a day after four members of the Mid-Day staff were convicted for carrying reports against Mr. Justice Sabharwal.

According to the joint statement, this is a great moment for the judiciary to establish its credentials as being impartial.

Also, through this case, the judiciary can show to the public that it stands apart from the other institutions of society that are under a cloud of corruption and declining credibility in the eyes of the public.

“The Delhi High Court held the Mid-Day staff guilty of contempt without disputing the factual accuracy of their reports, only on the basis that such reports about a former Chief Justice functioning in his judicial capacity, where he was also sitting with other judges, brings the entire judiciary into disrepute and therefore amounts to contempt,” they noted.

“This view — if accepted — would make the amendment in the Contempt of Courts Act, making truth a defence, irrelevant, and more importantly, make it impossible to bring judicial corruption to public view,” they added.

The signatories include historian Romila Thapar; Right to Information activists Aruna Roy, Nikhil De and Arvind Kejriwal; Medha Patkar of Narmada Bachao Andolan; writer Arundhati Roy; water crusader Rajendra Singh; and journalists Tarun Tejpal and Praful Bidwai.

In a related statement, lawyer Shanti Bhushan — who addressed two press conferences at which the charges were levelled against Mr. Justice Sabharwal — said: “If making these allegations publicly, even though true and supported by official documents, constitutes contempt of court, I am clearly guilty of the same and would like to invite appropriate action against myself.”

The sentencing of the four Mid-Day staff members, Mr. Bhushan said, was a clear attempt by the judiciary to instil the fear of imprisonment in the media to deter them from doing their clear duty.

Pointing out that the High Court’s decision raised several serious questions, the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust said: “Anybody who has held a public office is accountable, no matter how powerful the individual may be.”

The National Union of Journalists has urged the Supreme Court to frame guidelines on what constitutes contempt of court.

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