For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
What began with a stay order preventing protests from taking place in Jaffna on June 18, has ended with the editor of a Tamil newspaper being called to court and asked to apologise for an article.
Editor of Tamil newspaper, Uthayan, Thevanayagam Premananth, was last Friday (June 29) summoned to court by Jaffna Magistrate Manikavasagar Ganesaraja over an article published in Thursday’s edition of the newspaper.
Premananth said he had not been charged with anything, and had instead been questioned on the article and asked to apologise in court, and to carry an apology in the newspaper as well. He also said that he had been ‘humiliated’ by nine lawyers who had also been present at the time.
The article in question reported that Jaffna Magistrate Ganesaraja had apologised to TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran for certain statements the Magistrate had made about Sumanthiran in court.
Ganesaraja, however, has denied having apologised to Sumanthiran, and also said that the Uthayan article is ‘wrong’ and ‘discredits the judiciary’. Furthermore, Ganesaraja claimed that the story was “one-sided” as it had not carried his response to the matter.
The Uthayan editor said that this was not true, as the Magistrate had been contacted before the article went to print. “We tried to get a response from him and he refused to comment, so we checked with Sumanthiran, and he confirmed that he [Ganesaraja] had apologised,” said Premananth.
Meanwhile, TNA MP and Attorney-at-law, Sumanthiran said that “The judge does not have the authority to even summon a paper like that and ask them to publish corrections or anything like that. If there is a contempt, there is a procedure for that,” he said.
This issue actually took root earlier this month, shortly after police obtained a stay order from the Jaffna magistrate, to prevent a protest against land grabbing, which was scheduled to take place on June 18.
According to Sumanthiran, the original order was against former MP Selvaraja Gajendran, an organiser of the protest. Sumanthiran said that Gajendran had gone to court on June 21, to ask for a variation of that order, in accordance with the law.
It was at this occasion that the magistrate had reportedly brought up Sumanthiran’s name. “He was supposed to have mentioned my name in court, and made some adverse comments, when I was not there,” said Sumanthiran.
He added that he had been present in court when the case was next called up, last Wednesday (June 27). Sumanthiran said he told the magistrate that he had been “referred to by name, and I asked if I could be of any assistance to court. Then he said that I had made a speech in parliament saying that this order [the stay order against the protest] is wrong. I told him that I did not say that in parliament… but the more important issue is that even if someone said that in parliament, that cannot be made a subject of adverse comment in open court; that would be a breach of parliamentary privilege, and as an officer of courts, it is my duty to bring that to the notice of courts.
Then he got very angry and said various things about parliamentary privilege… I said I did not want to discuss any of that, because we would be breaching parliamentary privilege if we discuss any of that here, and then, he said ‘I’m sorry Mr. Sumanthiran, for what I said’. I said if you’re saying that now, even though I am only an officer of court, I commend the fact that you’re apologising, and the matter can rest here. That’s what happened, and that’s what was reported in the paper,” said Sumanthiran.
On Thursday evening, the Uthayan editor had been asked to be present in court on Friday, to provide an explanation.
Premananth said he had presented himself in court with his lawyer, Shantha Abimanasingham. “She raised some legal points, and also asked for time to explain on behalf of me,” said Premananth.
He said that the lawyer had explained their stand on the matter, and then left. Premananth, however, said he had then been questioned, and even shouted at, by nine other lawyers who had been present, for nearly an hour.
“I don’t know why they were shouting at me. They said I was wrong, and had published wrong news,” said Premananth.
In the midst of this, he said, one of the lawyers had dictated something to the stenographer, which the magistrate, Ganesaraja, had then instructed Premananth to publish in the next edition of the newspaper.
“I said that I would publish it if it was a court order, but we would mention that, and not publish it as my own wording,” said Premananth.
When contacted for a response on this matter, Ganesaraja said that the news item claiming that he had apologised to Sumanthiran was wrong.
Responding to questions about the grounds on which Premananth had been called to court in this manner, Ganesaraja said that he had not charged the editor but that he considered the matter a contempt of court. “This news item, I consider it discredits the judiciary,” he said.
He said that he had called for the editor to apologise in open court, and that he had asked the Uthayan to publish a correction, “because it was wrong information that was given.” When asked about the other lawyers present, Ganesaraja said, “They said that they stand up for the judiciary, and warned the editor to apologise in open court. They have made submissions also,” he said adding that “I had not shouted, but I warned him not to do this in future.”
Ganesaraja also said that Premananth had presented himself in an “egoistic manner” and did not respect the court COURTESY:THE SUNDAY LEADER
by Maryam Azwer