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Supreme Court blocks Tamil Nadu state government's bid to jail journalists

(RSF/IFEX) - RSF has 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 from the national daily "The Hindu". They had each been sentenced to serve 15 days in prison for "breach of privilege" after their newspaper criticised the arrest of an opposition figure and the harassment of independent media.

"The Supreme Court's decision on 10 November strikes down a serious threat to press freedom," RSF 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," RSF noted.

On 7 November 2003, the state assembly convicted "The Hindu" publisher S. Rangarajan, executive editor Malini Parthasarathy, editor N. Ravi, Madras bureau chief V. Jayanth and correspondent Radha Venkatesan of "breach of privilege" for articles describing Tamil Nadu State Chief Minister Jayalalithaa Jayaram's policies as "repressive". S. Selvam, editor of the Tamil-language paper "Murasoli", which is close to the separatist Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party, was handed the same sentence for publishing a translation of the articles.

The same day, about 20 police officers searched the offices of "The Hindu" in Madras, the Tamil Nadu state capital, and journalists fled to escape arrest. On 8 November, editor-in-chief N. Ram's car was searched by a group of unidentified men in Bangalore, in neighbouring Karnataka state.

On 9 November, journalists staged a demonstration in Madras and several hundred of them went on hunger strike in solidarity with their colleagues as the journalists' appeal was heard by the Supreme Court.

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