A group of social activists have issued the following statement criticising the Delhi High Court for sentencing four journalists of Mid-Day for contempt of court in a case involving the former Supreme Court Chief Justice, Y.K. Sabharwal.
The decision of Delhi High Court to sentence Mid-Day journalists to four months of imprisonment for publishing certain well-researched facts supported by suitable documents… is not merely wrong, it sends a strong signal to the rest of the country, especially to the media that if anyone dares to speak, publish or publicly discuss any wrongdoing by any court or any judge, it would be treated as contempt of court and he/she would be severely punished for that. We, the undersigned, consider this to be an assault on our freedom of speech and expression.
While it is important in any society that its judiciary inspire public confidence, such confidence cannot be engendered by using the threat of contempt action to deter exposure of any wrongdoing in the judiciary. Public confidence in the judiciary is created by the actions of the judiciary and any reckless allegations against it are quickly seen to be what they are. In a free society, such allegations do not stick, if they are incorrect or reckless. The use of the power of contempt to stifle allegations against judges would only increase public suspicion about the judiciary and indeed engender contempt for it.
Public confidence in the judiciary cannot be maintained by silencing dissenting voices or exposure of wrongdoing. Such exposure of all institutions, including the judiciary, is also essential in public interest for corrective action to be taken. Expose of any wrongdoing in any public institution and action against the wrongdoing only enhances the prestige of that institution rather than lowering it. It suggests that self-correcting mechanisms exist.
An independent and credible enquiry is required into these allegations, since that would reveal what the truth is. However, without going into the truth of the allegations, and without ordering any enquiry, the High Court of Delhi has sentenced these journalists to four months of imprisonment each. This judgment, unless reversed, is bound to send a clear message to the whole nation that if any judge indulges in any wrongdoing, the people of India do not have a right to speak about it or demand an enquiry into it.
We, like millions of citizens of India, have great regard for many things that the Indian judiciary has done in the past, particularly to protect the cherished fundamental right of free speech. However, this judgment strikes at the foundation of our respect. It makes us wonder why the Courts are averse to a full enquiry. Further, why are the Courts aggressively pursuing the journalists, who did a public duty to bring these facts in the public domain? To our mind, such conduct of the Courts lends further credence to the allegations reported by these journalists. It is unpalatable to us that the men who did their journalistic duty in exposing corruption be sent to jail while no enquiry is set up against the judge.
The signatories to the statement are: Admiral H.C. Malhotra, Retired Rear Admiral; Amit Bhaduri, Professor Emeritus, JNU; Arun Kumar, Professor of Economics, JNU; Aruna Roy, social activist; A.B. De, Professor of Medicine, AIIMS; Harsh Mander, campaigner against communalism; Jaya Shrivastava, women’s rights campaigner; Jean Dreze, right to food and employment campaigner; Prabhash Joshi, former Editor Jansatta; Rajendra Singh, Magsaysay awardee; Ramaswamy Iyer, former Secretary, Water Resources, Government of India; S.P. Shukla, (former Finance Secretary, GOI); Sandeep Pande, Magsaysay awardee; and Shripad Dharmadhikary, Director, Manthan, water campaigner.