The Supreme Court on Friday stayed the Meghalaya High Court’s order holding Shillong Times Editor Patricia Mukhim and Publisher Shobha Chaudhuri, guilty of contempt of court, Bar and Bench reported. The High Court had convicted them on March 8 for publishing two stories in December about a court order seeking better facilities for retired judges and their families.
Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi also issued notice to the High Court registrar on petition filed by Mukhim and Chaudhuri. The top court also stayed the operation of the High Court’s order imposing a fine of Rs 2 lakh each on Mukhim and Chaudhuri.
Minutes after the Supreme Court stayed the High Court order, Mukhim told PTI that she had “full faith that the judiciary will protect the freedom of press”.
The High Court had imposed a fine of Rs 2 lakh each on Mukhim and Chaudhuri. In case they failed to pay the amount within a week, the court said that the two would be imprisoned for six months and the paper “banned”. While delivering the judgment, the bench asked Mukhim and Chaudhuri to “sit in the corner of the court room” till the court adjourned its proceedings for the day.
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, retired last week, wanted several provisions for retired chief justices and judges and their spouses and children.
Sen had taken umbrage to the stories, particularly the one headlined, “When judges judge for themselves” and issued a notice to Mukhim and Chaudhuri asking them to explain why contempt proceedings should not be initiated against the newspaper.
The editor and publisher first appeared in court on December 13, and then issued an apology in February. However, the court rejected the apology.
The article “When judges judge for themselves”, the court adjudicated, “is not based on facts and has been published without any research only to scandalize the order of this honourable court”. “The caption of news report itself is malicious and contemptuous,” the judgement said. The duo were convicted on March 8.