Ahead of Friday’s hearing of the Mid Day journalists’ appeal against their conviction and sentence for contempt of court by the Delhi High Court for publishing allegations of misconduct against former chief justice of India YK Sabharwal, a group of eminent citizens moved Supreme Court, seeking the same punishment by endorsing the allegations.
In their application filed through advocate Kamini Jaiswal, the group said they sought the four-month imprisonment given to the journalists. The affidavit has been filed by noted Right to Information (RTI) activist and Magsaysay award winner, Arvind Kejriwal, on behalf of 30 well-known personalities from different spheres of life. Other Magsaysay award winners include Aruna Roy, Sandeep Pande and Rajinder Singh.
Terming it a fundamental issue of freedom of speech and expression, the group said the order was an assault on the media, and would send a wrong signal to the people of the country.
Last Friday, the court sentenced Mid Day editor Vitusha Oberoi, city editor M.K. Tayal, printer and publisher S.K. Akhtar, cartoonist Irfan Khan to four months’ imprisonment for committing contempt of court by publishing reports against Sabharwal. However, they were released on bail on the basis of a Supreme Court order that they should not be sent to jail.
On May 19, 2007, Mid Day carried reports that sealing orders issued by a bench headed by the then CJI Sabharwal was intended to benefit his sons who had ties with mall developers. The high court held that the paper crossed the Lakshaman rekha and tarnished the image of the Supreme Court by publishing the said reports.
A high court bench headed by Justice R.S. Sodhi said: “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…”
In their appeal, the journalists challenged the high court’s order as being “unjustified and unreasonable” on the ground that “truth is an explicit defence under the Contempt of Court Act”.