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Four journalists found guilty of contempt for reporting on land scandal, await sentencing

(CRN/IFEX) - Cartoonists Rights Network International has learned that the Delhi High Court found four journalists guilty of contempt for reporting on the aftermath of a land-use scandal. The cartoonist for "Mid-Day", Irfan Khan, is one of the journalists who face sentencing on 21 September 2007. The other journalists are M.K. Tayal, S.K. Akhtar and Vitusha Oberoi (the newspaper's publisher).

"The publications, in the garb of scandalising a retired chief justice of India, have in fact, attacked the very institution, which, according to us, is nothing short of contempt," stated the judges presiding over the case. The issue for the Bench appears to be more one of tainting the image of the high court rather than disputing the facts of the story. CRNI is alarmed that the concept of justice is being subjugated to pride.

The offending reports and commentary in the newspaper highlighted the connection between a retired chief justice of the Indian Supreme Court and the commercial enterprises of his sons. In March 2006, the court supported a government action to protect residential land from commercial use, which led to the demolition of small shops. However, the reform appears to have benefited the businesses of the retired judge's sons. Readers can review more on the land use decision on the web site of the independent group Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Judicial Reform:

In an 18 September story in the "Hindustan Times", reporter Nagendar Sharma wrote that a number of former high court justices, including J. S. Verma and V.N. Karha, have now called for a judicial inquiry regarding possible misconduct by former chief justice Sanderwal, the subject of the stories and cartoons at issue in the contempt trial.

The contempt convictions have sparked lively discussions in the Indian media. Former attorney general Soli Sorbji and chairman of the Press Council P.V. Savant noted in a CNBC interview that no contempt charges can be made against journalists without an investigation into the allegations against the judge.

CRNI sees the outcry from former jurists and current journalists as the opportunity Irfan Khan and his associates need to ensure that their appeal goes forward on a truly even playing field. CRNI urges jurists, journalists and artists to speak out on this issue.

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