DELHI: Even as the Delhi High Court today sentenced four journalists
from Delhi's Mid-Day afternooner to four months' imprisonment
for contempt of court for writing and publishing news reports
critical of the former Chief Justice of India YK Sabharwal,
several legal luminaries and media organisations demanded
a probe into the allegations made by the mediapersons.
Division Bench of Justice RS Sodhi and Justice BN Chaturvedi
also asked the journalists to pay a fine of Rs 10,000 each.
However, the journalists were granted bail in accordance with
a Supreme Court order which had asked that the four be given
bail after pronouncement of sentence. The Court had found
the four guilty on 11 September but announced the sentence
High Court convicted the journalists for reports in the paper
alleging Sabharwal had ordered the sealing of a large number
of commercial establishments in New Delhi last year to benefit
his sons who entered into partnerships with shopping malls
and developers of commercial complexes.
The four journalists convicted are Mid-Day City Editor
MK Tayal, the then Publisher SK Akhtar, Resident Editor Vitusha
Oberoi, and cartoonist Irfan Khan. The four will appeal the
judgement in the Supreme Court.
"We feel, in this peculiar case, the contemnors have
tarnished the image of the highest court and the sentence
of four months' imprisonment would serve the justice,"
the Bench said. The court directed the four to furnish a personal
bond of Rs 10,000 each and two sureties of the same amount
for the bail.
The court which taken suo motu notice of the case had on 11
September said the journalists had crossed the Laxman Rekha.
"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,"
the Bench said in its judgement on articles and cartoons that
appeared in the newspaper about Sabharwal.
Supreme Court lawyer and former Law Minister Shanti Bhushan
told Indiantelevision.com that the judgment was totally
wrong and tantamount to curb the freedom of the media to expose
corruption and wrong-doing.
He said that Parlianent had itself amended the Contempt of
Courts Act last year to say that if the allegations against
a judge were found to be true, then they would not be considered
contemptuous. Therefore, the judgement was only aimed at terrifying
the media and an attempt to curb truthfulness.
He said that since several luminaries including former judge
VR Krishna Iyer had written about the reports, the implication
of the High Court judgment was that even these writers should
be tried for contempt.
He said the appeal before the Supreme Court was coming up
for preliminary hearing in 28 September.
The Editors Guild also condemned the judgement, describing
it as an attack on the freedom of the press.
Earlier this week, a section of the legal fraternity and civil
society organisations demanded a high-level probe into allegations
of corruption against the former chief justice by a high-level
committee comprising of retired chief justices of India to
expose corruption in the judiciary..
Sabharwal in an article in a newspaper and also on a private
TV news channel denied the allegations of judicial misconduct
on his part during the adjudication of cases related to commercial
activities in residential premises of the capital.
at a press meet earlier this week, noted lawyer Prashant Bhushan,
social activists Swami Agnivesh and Magsaysay awardee Arvind
Kejriwal refuted Sabharwal's claims and maintained that there
was enough proof to suggest that the former chief justice
furthered the business interests of his sons through his judicial
decisions in the Delhi sealing drive cases.
also felt that the Court could not convict the mediapersons
without examining the documentary evidence produced by the