IFJ Deplores Contempt Sentences Handed Down by Delhi High Court against Three Indian Journalists and Publisher

The International Federation of Journalists strongly deplores the conviction for contempt of court of three journalists and the publisher of the afternoon daily, Midday, in the Indian national capital of Delhi. The four defendants were each today handed a sentence of four months rigorous imprisonment for the offence.

Irfan Khan, M.K. Tayal, S.K. Akhtar and Vitusha Oberoi were found guilty of contempt by the Delhi High Court, for a series of investigative articles and cartoons published in Midday on the Indian Supreme Court’s orders shutting down small commercial establishments and shops in notified residential areas of Delhi.

The articles and the cartoons in Midday purported to show that Mr Y.K. Sabharwal, who was then the Chief Justice of India (CJI) may have had a conflict of interests in this matter, since his two sons were involved in business dealings with large developers building commercial malls in certain parts of Delhi. Values in these properties reportedly appreciated after the Supreme Court issued its orders shutting down commercial establishments in residential areas.

The Midday articles were reviewed after publication and found to be factual and accurate by a group of lawyers in Delhi called the Campaign on Judicial Accountability

The IFJ learns that a former Chief Justice of India, Mr J.S. Verma, has found the evidence of judicial misconduct compelling enough for the present incumbent in that office to rescind the entire sequence of orders issued by Mr Sabharwal.

The IFJ is also informed that a petition has been circulated by a group of citizens, including the former Law Minister of India, Mr Shanti Bhushan, calling for an inquiry by appropriate authorities into the conduct of Mr Sabharwal. The public call for an independent inquiry has also been joined by Mr V.R. Krishna Iyer, one of India’s most senior and respected jurists

While condemning the court’s verdict, Jacqueline Park, IFJ’s Director for the Asia Pacific, expressed the hope that the Indian justice system would exonerate the defendants on appeal.

‘‘We call upon the Indian Supreme Court to apply the principle that truth is an adequate defence in cases involving contempt of court”, said Park. The principle, though written into the Indian statute last year, is yet to be put to the test.

“A media that is restrained from reporting on matters involving crucial national institutions would be completely unable to discharge its public service functions”, added Park.

The IFJ is heartened by the fact that significant public figures such as the former attorney general of India, Mr Soli Sorabjee and the former chairman of the Press Council of India, Mr P.B. Sawant, have endorsed the view that contempt charges against the media should follow, rather than precede an investigation into the allegations against the judge.

The IFJ extends its solidarity to all colleagues and professional organisations in India, in their effort to secure a reversal of this ruling.

The Cartoonists Rights Network International is one of many international organisations to voice their concerns over the ruling, and the IFJ wholeheartedly supports their call for the international media to speak out.

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0919

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 114 countries