India Court holds Youtuber Savukku Shankar guilty of criminal contempt for comment on Indian judiciary
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India Court holds Youtuber Savukku Shankar guilty of criminal contempt for comment on Indian judiciary

India’s Madurai Madra High Court Thursday held YouTuber Savukku Shankar guilty of criminal contempt and sentenced him to a six-month imprisonment in a suo moto petition against him for his remark on the Indian judiciary.

In July, in an interview with Red Pix, Shankar remarked that “the entire higher judiciary is riddled with corruption.” On his remark, the bench of Justice GR Swaminathan and Justice B Pugalendhi issued a notice of contempt against him. 

According to the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, contempt of court can either be civil contempt or criminal contempt. Civil contempt means willful disobedience of any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ or other processes of a court, or willful breach of an undertaking given to a court. Criminal contempt means the publication of any matter or the doing of any other act whatsoever which scandalizes, lowers, prejudices, or interferes with the authority of any court or judicial proceedings.

The court observed that Shankar is already facing proceedings for criminal contempt because in the open court he alleged that since one of the judges felt offended by his harsh criticism of some of the judgments, the proceedings have been initiated.  The court further observed that no exception can be taken to fair criticism of one’s judgments or judicial functioning and Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of speech and expression; however, this right is not absolute and is subject to Article 19(2) of the Constitution.

The court said:

The contemnor would be well within his rights to highlight specific instances of corruption. Of course, they must be backed by materials. He cannot tar the entire institution with a single brush. That would be crossing the lakshman rekha by a long shot. It is not as if the said remark accidently tumbled out of his mouth. It was not a slip of the tongue.

Earlier in July, Justice GR Swaminathan passed an order directing the Madurai bench registry to register a suo motu case of criminal contempt against  Shankar for his tweets. Shankar in his tweet alleged that Justice Swaminathan had “met someone” concerning the proceedings against another YouTuber, Maridhas, questioning the order passed by the judge which was in favor of Maridhas.

In his previous order, Justice Swaminathan said,

Savukku Shankar had condemned the said decisions in the most vituperative words. I genuinely felt that Shankar was entitled to pass comments on my judgments. But through the offending tweet, Shankar has questioned my integrity. He asks me “who I met at 06.00 A.M at Azhagar Koil when I was hearing the case pertaining to Thiru.Maridhas?” By this innuendo, Thiru Shankar is suggesting that the outcome of the Maridhas case was influenced by the person I am alleged to have met. This is clearly scandalizing the judiciary. Prima facie Shankar had committed criminal contempt.

The court also refused to entertain Shankar’s application to suspend the sentence until the filing of an appeal before the Indian Supreme Court and directed Shankar to be forthwith taken into custody and lodged in Central Prison, Madurai, Tamil Nadu.