The Supreme Court sentenced the editor and publisher of the daily Janakantha and its executive editor to confinement in the courtroom for three hours yesterday for contempt of court by publishing an article relating to war crimes convict Salauddin Quader Chowdhury.
The court also fined them Tk 10,000 each, to be donated to two charitable organisations in a week. In failure, they will have to serve times in prison for seven days.
“All elements of grave contempt of court are present in the impugned article,” the apex court said about the write-up published in the daily on July 16.
Executive Editor Swadesh Roy wrote the piece headlined “Saka Paribarer Totporota! Palabar Path Kome Gechhe (Lobbying by Salauddin Quader's family! Escape route got narrowed).
Among other things, the opinion piece said a member of the SC bench that was hearing the appeal of the condemned BNP leader met with the convict's family members.
The verdict against the paper's Editor and Publisher Atiqullah Khan Masud and Swadesh was delivered by a six-member SC bench headed by Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha.
The five other judges are Justice Md Abdul Wahhab Miah, Justice Nazmun Ara Sultana, Justice Syed Mahmud Hossain, Justice Md Imman Ali and Justice Hasan Foez Siddique.
Atiqullah and Swadesh remained seated in the courtroom to serve the sentence till rising of the court at 1:15pm from around 10:00am when the court passed the order.
The apex court warned the media, lawyers and litigants against making unfair comments about the court and its judges, and said it would give some guidelines for them in its full verdict.
“Since various questions arise in the mind of the people of the country, the litigants, the lawyers, persons in the print, electronic and social media regarding the power of this court to punish for contempt of court any citizen of the country, being the highest court of the country, this Division feels it proper to give some guidelines which will be reflected in our detailed judgment,” it said.
“Article 39 of the constitution has given freedom of thought and conscience to the citizens of the country but such freedom of thought and conscience is subject to reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the security of the state, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court.
“That is to say, any publication during the pendency of any matter in any court of law, which tends to interfere with the course of justice in any substantial or real manner by prejudicing the mind of the public against persons concerned in the case before the cause is finally heard, is also contempt.
“In determining this effect, the intention of the printer or author in the publication is not of any consequence. What we are concerned with is that we should not permit anyone to poison the fountain of justice. This would be a grave interference with the administration of justice”, said the SC judges.
The top court said it had the power to draw a contempt proceeding if any person undermined the authority or lowered the dignity of the court, or if any person scandalised the court or any judge or interfered with the administration of justice, or if any person made comments to undermine public confidence in the judges and the justice delivery system.
“Scandalisation, to express shortly, includes an attack upon any judge in his public capacity, for such attack would be calculated to malign the judge and to lower the authority of the court over which the judge performs his judicial function.
“At the same time, it also amounts to interference with course of justice and the proper administration thereof. Criticism of judges of the highest court in respect of acts done in their administrative capacity, which contain improper imputation, amounts to contempt,” said the court.
“If the chief justice is criticised for acts done in his administrative capacity this also amounts to contempt.
“The criticism should be fair and not made with oblique motive or with the object of maligning the justice delivery system and lowering the majesty of the law and dignity of the court in the estimation of the public.”
The SC said a litigant or a judge is not entitled to have any say in the selection of any judge or judges who are to constitute a particular bench.
“It is the chief justice of Bangladesh in exercise of powers under Article 107(3) of the constitution who is to decide such constitution of benches.”
It said the Contempt of Courts Act, 1926, is not applicable to Appellate Division, and it should be amended.
Attorney General Mahbubey Alam told reporters after the verdict that criticisms could be made about the activities of the court and its judges, but they could not be scandalised and their administrative functions could not be questioned.
Salahuddin Dolon, the counsel for Atiqullah and Swadesh, told The Daily Star that his clients would decide whether to seek review of the verdict after receiving its full text.
Earlier in August 2010, the SC had sentenced Mahmudur Rahman, acting editor of the daily Amar Desh, to six months' imprisonment for contempt over publishing an article headlined “Chamber bench means stay order in favour of the government”.