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Indian court issues fine, threatens jail time over opinion piece

 Indian court issues fine, threatens jail time over opinion piece

The Committee to Protect Journalists today strongly condemned a fine imposed by the Meghalaya state High Court on the publisher and editor of Meghalaya-based daily The Shillong Times.

On March 8, the Meghalaya High Court found Shillong Times editor Patricia Mukhim and publisher Shobha Chaudhuri guilty of contempt of court and fined them 200,000 rupees ($2,860) each after the paper published an opinion piece in December criticizing a judgement by the court, news portal Scroll.in reported. The court threatened to ban the newspaper and imprison Mukhim and Chaudhuri for six months if they failed to deposit the fine within a week, according to Scroll.in.

“Imposing a large fine and threatening to shutter The Shillong Times over an opinion piece is grossly excessive,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, from Brussels. “Journalists need to be able to criticize court decisions for a democracy to work properly.”

The charges stemmed from a December 10, 2018, opinion piece in the newspaper criticizing a judgement by Meghalaya High Court Justice Sudip Ranjan Sen, according to the Chennai-based daily The Hindu.


A screenshot of The Shillong Times. The Meghalaya state High Court fined the paper’s publisher and editor over an opinion piece published in December. (CPJ)

Sen, who retired on March 8 shortly after finding Chaudhuri and Mukhim guilty, was criticized in the piece for a ruling that would increase government resources given to retiring judges and their families, and his decision was compared to a previous judgement that was struck down by the Supreme Court, according to The Hindu.

Sen summoned Mukhim and Chaudhuri to appear before the court on December 13, where he asked Mukhim, “What is your qualification, madam, to write about judges?” and said that “[the] media is no one to dictate the court what the court should or should not do,” according to a report by Scroll.in.

On March 8, a court panel led by Sen and Chief Justice Mohammad Yaqoob Mir declared that the article was “not based on facts and has been published without any research only to scandalize the order of this honourable court,” according to Scroll.in, and found Mukhim and Chaudhuri guilty of contempt of court.

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Mukhim told CPJ over the phone that she plans to petition the Supreme Court to challenge the judgement, but did not say a specific date when she plans to do so.

CPJ emailed the Meghalaya High Court for comment, but did not receive a response.

The Shillong Times is the oldest English-language daily in India’s northeast, founded in 1945, according to its website.

In April 2018, Mukhim’s house in Shillong was attacked with petrol bombs after she wrote an editorial critical of the government’s plan to allow regulated mining in Meghalaya, as CPJ reported at the time. – CPJ/Pak Destiny

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