Bengaluru: Two journalists are to be jailed after Karnataka's lawmakers decided they should be punished for two-year-old articles in tabloids that were allegedly defamatory about some of them including Speaker KB Koliwad who is from the Congress. For the first time in Karnataka's history, the legislature passed a unanimous resolution seeking punishment for the reporters - a year in jail and a fine of Rs 10,000. The journalists are Ravi Belagere of Hi Bangalore and Anil Raj of Yelahanka Voice - both Kannada tabloids.
Karnataka is governed by the Congress.
"The State Assembly has decided to punish the two journalists of Kannada tabloids... I approve the recommendation of the privilege committee which had recommended a year's imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 10,000 on 'Hi Bangalore' and 'Yelahanka Voice' editors," Mr Koliwad announced in the state assembly on Wednesday.
The complaints against the two journalists were filed by a group of lawmakers cutting across party lines. Among those complained were Mr Koliwad of the Congress and SR Vishwanath of the BJP.
Local editors and journalists' guilds haven't reacted to the order yet.
On Friday, Amnesty International, said journalists should have the freedom to write critical articles, and politicians must be able to tolerate criticism. "If anyone feels their reputations have been affected, they can take recourse to civil defamation remedies in court," the rights group said.
Justice Santosh Hegde, a former ombudsman and Supreme Court judge, said, "They can approach the High Court. Any order passed by the Speaker or the House is open for scrutiny in the court."
But as questions were asked about the jail order, the Congress government distanced itself. "The government has no role to play in this. There was a complaint by an MLA - the Speaker had referred it a legislature committee," Karnataka law minister TB Jayachandra told NDTV.
The legislature has the power to send anyone to jail for breach of privilege of lawmakers, rights and immunities by the legislature and legislators without which they cannot discharge their functions. The privileges, however, have not been codified or listed in detail and neither have the penalties.
The two journalists are planning to approach the Karnataka High court in the coming days and claim that some of the charges are fabricated.
Anil Raj insisted that some of the articles attributed to his organisation weren't theirs. He also questioned the process of punishment claiming that Mr Vishwanath who complained about him was also on a committee that reviewed the complaint.
"How can he be part of the privileges committee and file a complaint against me in the same committee," he asked. Kimmane Ratnakar, who headed the privileges committee, clarified to NDTV that Mr Vishwanath stayed away when Mr Anil Raj was examined by the panel.
Law Minister TB Jayachandra distanced his government from the move. "The government has no role to play in this. There was a complaint by an MLA - the Speaker had referred it a legislature committee.
In 2003, the Supreme Court cancelled the Tamil Nadu assembly's controversial directive to jail top editors of the Chennai-headquartered The Hindu for 15 days. But courts are usually reluctant to sit in judgment on the legislature's exercise of powers on the floor of the assembly.