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India 10 November 2003

Supreme court blocks bid by Tamil Nadu state government to jail journalists

Reporters Without Borders today welcomed the Indian Supreme Court’s suspension of orders by the Tamil Nadu state assembly to arrest the publisher, two senior editors and two journalists of the national daily paper The Hindu to serve 15 days in prison for "breach of privilege" after the paper criticised the arrest of a government opponent and harassment of independent media.

"The court’s decision on 10 November strikes down a serious threat to press freedom," Reporters Without Borders said. "By attacking The Hindu, the state authorities are trying to take revenge on a paper that refuses to stay silent about the deterioration of civil liberties in the southeast Indian state. Once again, the state government’s actions towards the media are in blatant violation of the Indian national constitution which protects freedom of expression."

Publisher S. Rangarajan, executive editor Malini Parthasarathy, editor N. Ravi, Madras bureau chief V. Jayanth and correspondent Radha Venkatesan, were convicted by the state assembly on 7 November of "breach of privilege" for articles that called the policies of chief minister Jayalalithaa Jayaram repressive. S. Selvam, editor of the Tamil-language Murasoli, which is close to the separatist Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party, was given the same sentence for printing a translation of the articles.

The same day, about 20 police searched The Hindu’s offices in the Tamil Nadu capital, Madras and journalists fled to escape arrest. The next day, the car of editor-in-chief N. Ram was searched by a group of unidentified men in Bangalore, in neighbouring Karnataka state.

Journalists staged a demonstration in Madras on 9 November and several hundred went on hunger-strike in solidarity as the journalists’ appeal was heard by the supreme court.

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