The Editors Guild of India on Monday expressed its displeasure over the Meghalaya High Court’s decision to hold Shillong Times’ editor Patricia Mukhim and publisher Shobha Chaudhuri in contempt. The organisation said the order is intimidatory and undermines press freedom.
The contempt order is in connection with two stories that the Shillong-based newspaper published in December 2018 about a court order seeking better facilities for retired judges and their families. One of the articles titled, “When judges judge for themselves”, had drawn parallels between the order by Justice SR Sen and an order passed by two former judges of the High Court in 2016.
The report had said that according to the order, Sen, who incidentally retired on March 8, wanted several provisions for retired chief justices and judges and their spouses and children. “Besides providing medical facilities for the spouses and children, the order stressed the need for providing protocol, guest houses, domestic help, mobile/internet charge at the rate of Rs 10,000 and mobile for Rs 80,000 for judges,” the report had said.
On March 8, the court imposed a fine of Rs 2 lakh each on Mukhim and Chaudhuri. In case they fail to pay the amount within a week, the court said that the two would be imprisoned for six months and the daily will be “banned”.
The guild urged the judiciary to exercise its constitutional powers with caution and to prioritise the importance of the free media. “It is ironical that the judiciary which should uphold press freedom has instead issued an order that militates against freedom of expression,” the body said in a statement.
Meanwhile, an online crowdfunding campaign by the Meghalaya People’s Committee to Defend Freedom of Expression has been launched to garner support for the legal defence of the journalists and to collect funds to pay the fine if they lose the case.