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SC stays arrest of journalists of The Hindu 
Notices to TN Speaker, Home Secretary, DGP
Our Legal Correspondent

New Delhi, November 10
The Supreme Court today stayed the arrest of ‘The Hindu’ Editor N Ravi, its publisher and four other journalists, sentenced to 15 days imprisonment by the Tamil Nadu Assembly for the breach of the privilege of the House and issued notices to the Speaker, the state government and seven other respondents on their writ petitions.

A Bench comprising Mr Justice Y.K. Sabharwal and Mr Justice S.B. Sinha, while issuing notices to Tamil Nadu Assembly Speaker K. Kalimuthu, state Chief Secretary, Director General of Police (DGP) and other respondents, sought their replies within three weeks.

The court directed that the order for the stay of the execution of the arrest warrants against the journalists be forthwith intimated to the Tamil Nadu DGP.

The notices were also issued to the Secretary of the Assembly, state Home Secretary, the Karnataka government and its DGP, Bangalore Police Commissioner, Police Commissioner of Delhi and two senior officials of the Tamil Nadu police. The notices were sought by the journalists to the police functionaries of the other states apprehending the execution of the warrants outside the Tamil Nadu.

The court also issued notice to Attorney-General Soli Sorabjee seeking his assistance in adjudicating the matter as an important question of law was involved.

The notice to the Speaker was issued after ‘The Hindu’s’ counsel Harish Salve submitted that there was no legal bar on issuing notice to the presiding officer of the legislature by the court as it had been done earlier also, when the Bench specifically asked whether notice could be issued to the Speaker as had been sought by the petitioners.

The Speaker had issued warrants against Mr Ravi, ‘The Hindu’s publisher S. Rangarajan, its Executive Editor Malini Parthasarthy, two senior journalists — V. Jayanth and Radha Venkatesan — and DMK mouthpiece ‘Murasoli’s’ correspondent Selvam on a resolution passed by the assembly on November 7, finding them guilty of “committing” the breach of the privilege of the House.

The court made it clear that the notices were limited to the prayers regarding the stay of the arrest warrants and restraining the police officials of Tamil Nadu and any other state from executing the same, made among others by the petitioners.

Salve, and senior advocate Kapil Sibal who appeared for ‘Murasoli, while challenging the resolution passed against the journalists, made a forceful plea for stay of their arrest, contending that such an extreme step was not “warranted” in the present case. “The resolution is nasty. I will call it nasty... as there was nothing in ‘The Hindu’ editorial requiring such an action.”

“Whether casting a slur on the Chief Minister for her action in the House will be the breach of privilege. No person conversed with the law should have come to this conclusion,” he argued. ‘Murasoli’ had only reproduced ‘The Hindu’ editorial in Tamil, Mr Sibal said.

The court said for smooth functioning of democracy every institution had to respect the “dignity” the other, be it the legislature, executive, judiciary and media. “None of the institutions should cross the ‘lakshman rekha’ to undermine the dignity of the others,” it observed.

Mr Sibal said “Members of Parliament and state Assemblies do enjoy the privilege for their action and speaking inside the House. But the ‘lakshman rekha’, as pointed out by the Bench has to be maintained in their action by all the wings of the democracy.”

At the very outset of the hearing, the Bench asked both the senior advocates to satisfy it how a case for review of the order of the Assembly was made out in the present case and to what extent the court could go in such a situation.

“Can the court sit on judgement on merits of the decision of the legislature. Can we say that there is no breach of the House... in the present case?” the Bench asked, adding the court had to see to what extent the media could go in criticising the action of the legislature.

Admitting that the issue involved, had a direct bearing on the basic structure of the Constitution as a question had arisen whether the privilege of the House and its members was above the fundamental rights of speech and expression, Mr Salve said. “The question would arise whether liberty of citizens can be curtailed without their trial and giving them a chance of hearing.”

“Can they be convicted without hearing? Is the privilege superior to Articles 21 (protection of life and personal liberty), 19 (freedom of speech) and 14 (Equality before law) of the Constitution. Will Articles 21 and 19 yield to the power of privilege under Article 194?” he asked.

The issue had to be decided by the court as the framer of the Constitution had left the power to the apex court, Mr Salve said.


Another case filed against The Hindu

Chennai, November 10
A defamation case was today filed before a sessions court against The Hindu for publishing a defamatory article in its issue, dated April 13, 2003, allegedly intending to harm the reputation of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa.

Principal Sessions Judge M. Jeyapaul, before whom the complaint was filed by City Public Prosecutor (CPP) T.V. Ganesh on behalf of the Chief Minister, posted to November 22 the further hearing of the case.

In his complaint, the CPP submitted that The Hindu published an article titled “People’s Court only way out for Opposition,” which was per se defamatory, false, frivolous and written without verification of facts.

The article gave an indication that the legislators were totally helpless inside the Assembly. The major Opposition parties in the state were frustrated and angered by their inability to raise key issues in the legislature. They received chastisement at the hands of the Chief Minister who had rubbed salt into their wounds, it said. — UNI


Constitution supreme not legislature, says Ram

The Hindu Editor-in-Chief N. Ram speaks to the media in Chennai on Monday welcoming the Supreme Court decision.
The Hindu Editor-in-Chief N. Ram speaks to the media in Chennai on Monday, welcoming the Supreme Court decision.
— Tribune photo by Sukumar

Chennai, November 10
Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu N. Ram today said if the state government defied the Supreme Court’s order, staying the arrest of six scribes, including five from The Hindu, “It can be a case of constitutional breakdown in Tamil Nadu”.

“However, I do not think that they will act that much foolish”, he said addressing the media in the daily’s premises immediately after the Supreme Court’s stay.

Ram said “we are not opportunistic and have not demanded invoking Article 356 as things stand now”.

He said five journalists of the daily, who were “resourceful enough” to evade the arrest, would be back in the office once the SC order was clearly communicated to them and the state authorities.

“We would not like to take risks and be trapped as we know what would happen if they were caught”, he said answering questions.

He said once again it was upheld that the Constitution was supreme and not the legislature as evident from today’s order of the apex court, thanks to the instant nationwide interest and massive coverage of the Press of the “undemocratic misadventure” attempted by the Tamil Nadu Government.

Answering a question, he said he did not have any advice for Chief Minister Jayalalithaa at this time. “She had enough things to worry about, including the imminent verdict on the TANSI case,” he said.

“She did not need this misadventure,” he said, adding that it was for her to consider everything and take decisions in her interest.

Ram said if Speaker K. Kalimuthu acted against the apex court’s order “he would be acting at his own personal peril”.

Asked whether he thought that The Hindu had been particularly targeted, Ram said in fact 16 criminal cases of defamation and one civil case had been registered against the daily by the Jayalalithaa government.

Criticising the police, he said it descended on the daily’s premises without “sufficient” warrants and trespassed the premises.

Ram, who had talks with Indian Newspaper Society president M.P. Veerendrakumar earlier, said it was proposed to conduct national level colloquia on issues like privileges, defamation and criminal contempt. — PTI


Editors Guild to implead itself in The Hindu case
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, November 10
The Editors Guild of India today decided to implead itself in The Hindu case before the Supreme Court and demanded codification of the privileges of law makers.

This decision was taken at the end of an emergency meeting of the Guild Executive here on Monday afternoon. The meeting was chaired by the President of the Guild, Mr Hari Jaisingh.

The Guild has demanded codification of the privileges of legislators. A resolution adopted at the meeting stated, “It is of utmost importance to codify the privileges of legislators in view of the fact that vagueness of such privileges represents a danger to media.”

The Guild hailed the Supreme Court stay on the arrest of five senior journalists of The Hindu and the Editor of Murasoli and demanded rescinding of the Tamil Nadu Assembly resolution sentencing the scribes.

The Guild further demanded revocation of the arrest warrants issued by the Speaker and the decision to suspend passes of the journalists for 15 days.

The resolution stated that freedom of speech and expression and the right to dissent were essential attributes of democracy and the Tamil Nadu Assembly had sought to challenge them by its decision against these journalists. “The media has a duty to act responsibly and does not claim any privilege greater than that accorded to the citizen under the Constitution,” the resolution said.

“Intolerance and misuse of power are on the rise in the country. Media has a duty to expose these trends dispassionately to arouse public opinion in defence of the country’s cherished plurality, values and freedom,’’ the resolution said.

Mr Hari Jaisingh told TNS here on Monday evening that about 20 Delhi-based members were present at the meeting which lasted an hour.

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