SC admits ST plea on contempt

SHILLONG/NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Thursday admitted a writ petition challenging the recent controversial Meghalaya High Court verdict sentencing The Shillong Times Editor and Publisher for contempt of court.
The petition, which was moved by noted lawyer Vrinda Grover, was admitted in the court of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi.
The case is listed for Friday and is expected that the chief justice will take it up in the first half and pass an interim verdict.
The Division Bench of the High Court of Meghalaya had on March 8 fined both the Editor and the Publisher of The Shillong Times, Patricia Mukhim and Shobha Chaudhuri, respectively, for a report in the daily that critiqued an order of Justice SR Sen on the retirement benefits of judges.
“We sentence both the contemnors to sit in the corner of the Court room till the rising of the Court and impose a fine of Rs 2 lakh each which is to be deposited with the registry within a week and then to be deposited in the welfare fund of this High Court,” the court had said.
The court had also directed that in default of payment, both the contemnors would have to undergo simple imprisonment for six months and the paper will automatically come to an end (banned).
Meanwhile, the HC verdict has been roundly criticised by leading media voices and legal experts alike. The Editors Guild of India had expressed distress over the order saying it was “intimidatory and undermines press freedom”. Some leading national dailies were also vocal against the verdict in their editorials.
The Press Council of India was also critical saying it would file an application to implead itself in the order.
Speaker, Congress MLA defend freedom of press
Assembly Speaker Donkupar Roy and Congress MLA George Lyngdoh have defended the freedom of press in the wake of the recent ruling of the High Court against the Editor and the Publisher of The Shillong Times.
Expressing concern over the ruling, Lyngdoh, who took part in the discussion on the budget on Wednesday, said, “We are witnessing an environment of autocracy, an environment where freedom of speech and expression had been curtailed by none other than the judiciary itself.”
He said the recent order of the High Court of Meghalaya shows that the sword of Damocles is hanging over press freedom.
According to him, it is expected of the judiciary to strengthen the fundamentals of the Constitution and not weaken it.
He added that suppression of voice will create chaos and urged the government to reinforce the spirit of freedom through the initiatives that have been debated at length.
Later, speaking to reporters, Roy said nobody, including the court and other institutions, can take away the freedom of expression.
“There should be free speech and this right cannot be taken away by anyone,” he added.
Lyngdoh added that the government has gone silent on the new advertisement and media policy and nothing has been mentioned about the welfare of journalists and the media fraternity.

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