In a big relief to the editors of two Bengaluru news publications, the Karnataka High Court told the Karnataka Assembly on Wednesday not to arrest them until further notice. The HC then posted the case for hearing in four weeks’ time.
“Do not execute the order until further notice," the HC reportedly said.
The two editors – Ravi Belagere of Hi Bangalore and Anil Raju of Yelahanka Voice – had been sentenced in June to one year in prison and fined Rs 10,000 each, by the Karnataka Assembly Speaker KB Koliwad. Both editors were found guilty of breach of privilege for publishing allegedly defamatory articles against legislators.
The “re-consideration proposals” of both editors were rejected by the Speaker during the Winter Session of the Assembly that concluded recently, following which they moved High Court seeking relief.
While Hi Bangalore had allegedly published defamatory articles against the Congress MLA from Siraguppa, BM Nagaraj, Yelahanka Voice had featured articles against the BJP MLA from Yelahanka, SR Viswanath.
The two MLAs filed a complaint with the Privileges Committee in the Assembly, which recommended a one-year sentence with fine, after an investigation over several sessions.
“Even after coming before the committee and apologising, Anil Raju continued to publish defamatory articles with mocking pictures,” reads the Privileges Committee order.
In one follow-up article, the Yelahanka Voice went on to call SR Viswanath mentally ill.
Following the Speaker’s order, the Editors Guild of India (EGI) had urged the Assembly to withdraw its resolution and called the move a “pernicious as well as gross misuse of the powers and privileges”.
“If individuals of the legislature feel that their reputations have been affected, they are free to take the matter to court against the journalists or publication and not act as complainant, prosecution and judge as they did in this case,” the EGI said in its statement.
Breach of privilege
Article 194 of the Indian Constitution provides privileges to the state legislature, its members and committees, while Article 105 covers the same for Parliament and its members. While the Constitution provides privileges such as freedom of speech in state legislature/Parliament, immunity to proceedings in court for anything said in the legislature/ Parliament, the House also has power to punish.