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FOUR JOURNALISTS FOUND GUILTY OF CONTEMPT

An Indian High Court has sentenced four journalists to jail for publishing stories critical of the judiciary, report the Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRN), Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF).

In January 2008, the Supreme Court will hear the appeal of the four journalists, who will remain free until the hearing.

Protests and rallies followed the New Delhi high court's decision on 21 September to hold the journalists for contempt of court over a series of articles published in May in the "Mid-Day" newspaper. The court ruled that the articles, which said a former chief justice used his judicial power to benefit his sons, had harmed the Supreme Court's reputation.

Two editors, Vitusha Oberoi and M.K. Tayal, publisher S.K. Akhtar, and cartoonist Irfaan Khan, were found guilty of contempt and sentenced to four months in jail.

The investigative articles and a satirical cartoon in "Mid-Day" claimed that then-Supreme Court chief justice Y. K. Sabharwal's sons benefited from a decision he made about some buildings being demolished, because they owned nearby shopping malls that would increase in value.

"What we have said is the truth, and that is why we should not be hauled up for contempt," said Oberoi.

"The Indian judiciary has a disturbing history of abusing contempt of court provisions to silence critics and shield the institution from public scrutiny," says CPJ. "The New Delhi High Court in this case does not appear to have considered truth as a defence."

The sentence was stayed until further orders, a two-judge bench said on 28 September. It rejected an appeal by 27 activists, including journalists, former government officials and prominent writer Arundhati Roy, who called upon the court to punish them as well on the grounds that that they also criticised the chief justice for his alleged misconduct. The activists said the high court judgment was an "assault on the freedom of speech."

Visit these links:
- CPJ: http://tinyurl.com/yphowu
- IFJ: http://www.ifj.org/default.asp?index=5325&Language=EN
- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=23733
- IndiaLawOnline on the appeal of the 27 activists: http://tinyurl.com/3ywxys
(2 October 2007)

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