The decision of Delhi High Court to sentence Mid Day journalists to four months of imprisonment for publishing certain well researched facts supported by suitable documents which showed serious misconduct on the part of the former Chief Justice of India is not merely wrong, it sends a strong signal to the rest of the country, especially to the media that if anyone dares to speak, publish or publicly discuss any wrongdoing by any court or any judge, it would be treated as contempt of court and he/she would be severely punished for that. We the undersigned consider this to be an assault on our freedom of speech and expression.
While it is important in any society that its judiciary inspire public confidence, such confidence cannot be engendered by using the threat of contempt action to deter exposure of any wrongdoing in the judiciary. Public confidence in the judiciary is created by the actions of the judiciary and any reckless allegations against it are quickly seen to be what they are. In a free society, such allegations do not stick, if they are incorrect or reckless. The use of the power of contempt to stifle allegations against judges would only increase public suspicion about the judiciary and indeed engender contempt for it. Public confidence in the judiciary cannot be maintained by silencing dissenting voices or exposure of wrongdoing. Such exposure of all institutions including the judiciary is also essential in public interest for corrective action to be taken. Expose of any wrong doing in any public institution and action against the wrong doing only enhances the prestige of that institution rather than lowering it. It suggests that self correcting mechanisms exist.
In the instant case, the allegations reported by the Mid Day team were supported by documents obtained from various government sources and government's websites. Subsequent investigations, analysis and verifications by Campaign for Judicial Accountability, which consists of eminent people and responsible persons, not only confirmed these allegations but revealed many more facts. On learning about these allegations, three former judges of Supreme Court, namely Justice J. S. Verma, Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer and Justice P. B. Sawant have demanded a credible enquiry into the whole matter. All these developments indicate that there is a strong prima facie evidence and the allegations are not baseless.
If that be so, an independent and credible enquiry is required into these allegations, since that would reveal what the truth is.
However, without going into the truth of the allegations, and without ordering any enquiry, the High Court of Delhi has sentenced these journalists to four months of imprisonment each. This judgment, unless reversed, is bound to send a clear message to the whole nation that if any judge indulges in any wrongdoing, the people of India do not have a right to speak about it or demand an enquiry into it.
We, like millions of citizens of India, have great regard for many things that the Indian judiciary has done in the past, particularly to protect the cherished fundamental right of free speech. However, this judgment strikes at the foundation of our respect. It makes us wonder why the Courts are averse to a full enquiry? Further, why are the Courts aggressively pursuing the journalists, who did a public duty to bring these facts in the public domain? To our mind, such conduct of the Courts lends further credence to the allegations reported by these journalists. It is unpalatable to us that the men who did their journalistic duty in exposing corruption be sent to jail while no enquiry is set up against the judge, who prima facie appears to have indulged in wrongdoing.
This is a very critical moment in the history of the right to free speech. We feel that if the Delhi High Court judgment is not reversed, the people of this country are in serious danger of losing their right to free speech, at least as far as the judiciary is concerned, which is undoubtedly one of the most powerful institutions of the State today. That is why we feel that we must join this fight for this precious right. If we do not speak now we will never be able to condone our silence for the rest of our lives.
With these thoughts weighing heavily on our minds, we are forced to take the following step. We publicly reiterate whatever has been written by
Mid Day and whatever has been said and written by Campaign for Judicial Accountability. Because the Courts have held that saying all this publicly is Contempt of Court, we plead guilty of the same and request this Hon'ble Court to sentence us to the same punishment as pronounced against the
Mid Day journalists. However, we will keep fighting for transparency and accountability in the judiciary because we feel that is the only way to maintain the integrity of and public confidence in the judiciary.
Arvind Kejriwal (RTI campaigner, Magsaysay awardee)on behalf of the following:
Admiral H.C. Malhotra (Retd. Rear Admiral, Indian Navy),Amit Bhaduri (Professor Emeritus, Economics, JNU),
Anant Trivedi (National Network for India, Convenor, South Delhi, Urja),
Arun Agarwal (Financial Analyst, Public Interest Activist, Bangalore),
Arun Kumar (Professor of Economics, JNU),
Aruna Roy (Founder MKSS, Social Activist, RTI campaigner),
Aseem Shrivastava (Economist, former professor at various Universities),
Debabrata Panda (Editor, Bhartiya Samajik Chintan, Journal of the Indian Academy of Social Sciences),
Dr. A.B. De (Professor of Medicine, AIIMS),
Dr. Anoop Saraya (Professor of Gastroenterology, AIIMS),
Himanshu Thakkar (Director South Asian Network of Dams, Rivers and people),
J George (Visiting Professor Delhi School of Economics),
Jaya Shrivastava (Women's rights campaigner),
Jean Dreze (Right to food and employment campaigner, Former member NAC),
K.S. Subramaniam (IPS, Retd DGP),
Kumudini Pati (Gen. Secy AIPWA, Central Committee Member CPI(ML) Liberation),
Madhu Bhaduri,(IFS, Former Ambassador of India to many countries),
Nikhil De (MKSS, RTI and Employment Campaigner),
Prabhash Joshi (Senior journalist, former editor Jansatta),
Promod Chawla (URJA Bharat 2000),
Rajendra Singh (Water campaigner and Magsaysay awardee),
Ramaswamy Iyer (Senior fellow CPR, former Secy, Water resources, GOI),
Romar Correa (Director & Professor, RBI Unit in Monetary Economics, University of Mumbai),
S.P. Shukla (former Finance Secretary, GOI),
Sandeep Pande (Asha Ashram, Magsaysay awardee),
Shripad Dharmadhikary (Director Manthan, Water Campaigner),
Smitu Kothari (Centre for Intercultural resources, Lokayan, Social activist),
Sujata Patel (Prof and HOD Sociology, Univ of Pune),
Vijay Pratap (CSDS, Lokayan, Social Activist),
Vinod Raina (Founder Eklavya, Campaigner on education issues).