New Delhi: On March 8, the Meghalaya high court held the editor and publisher of the Shillong Times guilty of contempt of court.
Chief Justice Mohamad Yaqoob Mir told the editor, Patricia Mukhim, and publisher Shobha Choudhury, “to sit in the corner of the courtroom till the rising of the court” and imposed on them a fine of Rs 2 lakh each – to be deposited to the registry for the welfare fund of the high court “within a week”.
Failing that, “both the contemnors will have to undergo six months simple imprisonment and the paper so called ‘Shillong Times’ will automatically come to an end (banned)”.
The contempt proceedings were initiated on the basis of reports published in the Shillong Times on December 6, 2018 and December 10, 2018 under the headings, “High Court pursues retirement benefits to judges, family” and “When judges judge for themselves”, respectively.
Significantly, the court’s 37-page judgement takes note of comments related to the case made by Mukhim on social media. The judgement stated, “Further, it also appears from the rejoinder affidavit filed by the learned Amicus Curiae that the contemnor, Smti. Patricia Mukhim took the help of social media and even gone to the extent of mocking the judicial system of this country. For the ready reference, the same are reproduced herein below.”
The judgement said, “It is pertinent to mention herein that the respondent/contemnor (namely Patricia Mukhim) has not only lowered the majesty of the honourable high court but she has also made serious accusations upon the lawyers who are appointed as amicus curiae. The answering amicus curiae further submits that the conduct of one of the respondents/contemnors after the drawing of the contempt proceedings in posting distasteful posts in her social media page questioning the majesty of our judicial system and the dignity of amicus curiae and terming them as a group who feed gossip to judges shows how adamant the contemnor is and how little respect she has for the majesty of this honourable high court.”
Since the matter was sub-judice , the amicus curiae, K. Ch. Gautam, submitted to the court that the contemnor posted “bad remarks in the social media” against him, “which is a dangerous attack to the entire legal fraternity and publishing such false report is scandalising the Court.”
Therein, the amicus curiae didn’t seem to make any difference between what was published in a newspaper under the editorship of Mukhim and her personal comments on social media. The judgement said that “… The social media has a right to publish the news and is a part of the democracy, subject to duty. (But) The sacred duty of the media is to publish correct news and sell their papers but it is limited, subject to their duties.”
Taking note of Mukhim’s mention of the words “shut up” in her social media post on December 18, supposedly uttered by Justice (since retired) S.R. Sen to her legal counsel during a hearing of the case, it stated that Justice Sen denied doing so, adding, “Justice S.R. Sen till date never shouted and never said to any lawyer the word ‘shut up’.”
“Therefore, in our view, the matter comes within the purview of Section 15 of the Contempt of Court Act, 1971.”
The court noted, “Considering the facts and circumstances of this case, we are of the considered view that the contemnor No I (Mukhim) has made a derogatory comment which also appears from the affidavit filed by the Amicus Curiae that she has posted in the social media dated 17.12. 2018 under the statement, ‘Will God reserve the choicest abuses for us journalists? That’s what the earthly Gods seem to believe.’ When she was confronted on February 25, 2019 for these remarks, she had no answer.”
Mukhim had deleted her December 18 Facebook post but the court did not take cognisance of the deletion.
The court also decided to set aside certain affidavits – which offered an unconditional apology – filed by the respondents. “After conclusion of the arguments on March 1, 2019, the contemnors in the second half of the day appears to have filed two affidavits in the registry without any permission. They have now tendered unconditional apology, which appears to be a calculated strategy so as to avoid punishment.”
While Mukhim has not responded to The Wire’s query on whether she and her co-respondent in the case would challenge the order, some media reports have said they would do so.
The full judgment of the case is as follows: