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SC stays arrest of Tamil Nadu journalists

By Onkar Singh in New Delhi
Last updated on: November 10, 2003 13:57 IST
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The Supreme Court on Monday stayed the execution of arrest warrants against six Tamil Nadu journalists.

Last week, the Tamil Nadu assembly had ordered the arrest of editor N Ravi, executive editor Malini Parthasarthy, publisher S Rangarajan, chief of bureau V Jayant and special correspondent Radha Venkatesan (all from the The Hindu), and editor S Selvam (DMK party daily Murasoli) on charges of breach of privilege and gross contempt.

Speaker K Kalimuthu had issued the order in connection with an editorial in The Hindu, which was later reproduced in Murasoli.

The Hindu journalists had filed a petition in the apex court challenging the assembly's decision to jail them for 15 days.

While staying the arrests, a bench comprising Judge Y J Sabbarwal and S P Sinha issued notices to the assembly speaker, assembly secretary, Tamil Nadu director general of police and Chennai police commissioner and two other officials.

The counsel for The Hindu journalists, Harish Salve, told the court: "The time has come to codify privileges of legislatures."

"The editorial was written by N Ram but the arrest warrants have been issued against other journalists," he told the court.

"A slur on the Chief Minister Ms Jayalalithaa does not constitute a contempt if one used the expression that she was fuming instead of saying angrily," he argued.

The justices asked Salve if there was a 'Lakshman Rekha' to tell where the privileges of the members of the legislature began and where they ended, and to what extent the media could go while criticising the functioning of legislature.

Salve said this was precisely the issue that the petitioners wanted the court to settle. "There is no law on this."

Kapil Sibal, who argued on behalf of Murasoli, said the assembly had banned his client and taken away its accreditation.

The court, however, did not say anything on this issue.

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Onkar Singh in New Delhi