New Delhi: Following the recent Meghalaya High Court order in a contempt case against The Shillong Times, including its editor and publisher, a civil society group, Meghalaya People’s Committee for Freedom of Expression and Free Press (MPCFOEFP), has started an initiative to raise funds to cover legal expenses.
The Meghalaya High Court declared The Shillong Times editor Patricia Mukhim and publisher Shobha Choudhury guilty of contempt of court. However, both Mukhim and Choudhury are now appealing the order in the Supreme Court.
The organisation is looking to raise Rs 5 lakh. If the legal appeal fails, Rs 4 lakh would be paid out of the generated fund. If the fine is waived off, the funds would be used towards a campaign to reform contempt laws in the country as well as help local journalists and media defend their rights.
The Meghalaya High Court, on March 8, had declared Mukhim, a prominent journalist, writer and social worker, and Choudhury guilty of contempt of court. The contempt proceedings were initiated against the duo on the basis of reports published in the Shillong-based daily on December 6, 2018, and December 10, 2018, under the headlines “High Court pursues retirement benefits to judges, family” and “When judges judge for themselves,” respectively.
Chief Justice Mohammad Yaqoob Mir asked the two “to sit in the corner of the court room till the rising of the court” and imposed a fine of Rs 2 lakh on each. The amount is to be deposited to the registry for the welfare fund of the High Court within a week.
MPCFOEFP said that it felt the need to start the online crowdfunding initiative as a free and independent press “is essential for the health of democracy in the country in general and Meghalaya in particular”.
“Patricia Mukhim and Shobha Choudhury are appealing to the Supreme Court challenging the orders. But there is a need for all of us citizens to come together and send a message that the fourth pillar of democracy should be protected at all cost. Therefore, Meghalaya People’s Committee for Freedom of Expression and Free Press (MPCFOEFP) appeals for all citizens to come together and help,” the civil society group said.
Recently, reacting sharply to the recent Meghalaya High Court order, the Editors Guild of India had termed it “intimidatory” and said it “undermines” press freedom.
“The Editors Guild of India is deeply distressed over the Meghalaya High Court’s order in a contempt case against The Shillong Times including its editor and publisher for reporting the proceedings of the Court,” the Editors Guild had said in a statement.
The statement further said, “The order, which among other things, imposes a fine along with a threat of imprisonment and a ban on the publication, is intimidatory and undermines press freedom. It is ironical that the judiciary which should uphold press freedom has instead issued an order that militates against freedom of expression.”