HomeIndiaYouTuber 'Savukku' Shankar jailed for 6 months for contempt

YouTuber ‘Savukku’ Shankar jailed for 6 months for contempt

Bench says he has not expressed regret for remarks against higher judiciary

Bench says he has not expressed regret for remarks against higher judiciary

The Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court on Thursday convicted noted blogger ‘Savukku’ Shankar for criminal contempt for his remarks on the higher judiciary and sentenced him to six months’ simple imprisonment. He was directed to be lodged in the Madurai Central Jail.

Court took the initiative suo moto Contempt proceedings against Mr. Shankar after his remark, “the entire higher judiciary is plagued with corruption”, made on a YouTube channel on 22 July. Earlier, the court had framed the charges and asked him to explain within a week why he should not be held guilty of defaming the judiciary by making a statement in the public domain.

Justice GR Swaminathan and Justice B. Pugalendhi said that the conduct of the contempt is noteworthy. He did not express his regret or remorse anywhere. He didn’t offer an apology at all. On the other hand, he insisted that he was justified in making the alleged statement. The Bench was of the view that by reading the impugned statements one would come to the conclusion that they could bring down the prestige and dignity of the courts and judges.

“We would have closed the proceedings if the contempt had realized his mistake and apologized sincerely. Far from doing so, the contemptuous person stuck to his position. In fact, his conduct during the past few weeks would in itself constitute acts of contempt,” the judges said.

Taking into account the fact that criminal contempt was initiated against him in the principal seat of the High Court six years ago, the judges observed that even then, he made objectionable statements.

“The contemnor has reiterated his resolve to continue his attack on the judiciary. He has even said that he could face a maximum sentence of six months and after coming out, he would focus all his attention on the judges and the judiciary. Justice VR Krishna Iyer said that ‘justice fails when the judge quails’. We do not offer quail. There are occasions when judges have to be firm and harsh. Taking away such provocations by saying that we have broad shoulders would be seen as a sign of weakness. The contemptuous person has shown himself to be of an unrepentant character,” the judges said.

At the hearing, Mr. Shankar argued that the proceedings were out of jurisdiction. Relying on the rules of contempt of court, he said that since the matter was not referred to the Advocate General in the first instance, the present proceedings were not maintainable. He submitted that he was concerned with the low representation of the oppressed classes and the over-representation of the Brahmins in the higher judiciary. He claimed that his comments were taken out of context and that he had respect for the judiciary. He said his intention was only to demand reforms in the system. In his view, he has a right to highlight public causes and should not be stopped from doing so.

Representing the High Court Registry, Senior Advocate AL Somayaji submitted that under Article 215 of the Constitution, the High Court has an inherent power to punish for contempt. The contempt was trying to divert the attention of the court without directly responding to the allegations. The allegations pertain to defaming the judiciary. Instead of expressing regret for doing so and without offering to remove them from the public domain, the contemptuous justified his statements by taking shelter behind social justice issues. His comments have a definite tendency to destroy public confidence in the institution of the judiciary. He said that they cannot be called fair criticism.

The judges observed that when suo moto Action is taken and when Article 215 of the Constitution is invoked, there is no need to obtain the consent of the Advocate General. The contempt objection cannot be stayed in view of the order passed by the Chief Justice authorizing the Bench to deal with the contempt proceedings.

One of the charges against contempt is that he said judges are only for the rich, the moneyed, the influential and the powerful. “The slanderer is not an unknown person. We take judicial notice of the fact that he is a famous YouTuber. He remains very active in social media. His interview is watched by millions of viewers. In the comments section of his interviews, judges and courts have been portrayed in the most barbaric terms. It will not be an exaggeration to say that the contempt on social media has the ears of thousands of people. His words have hurt the dignity and prestige of this institution.”

The contempt will be within his rights to highlight specific instances of corruption. Of course, they must be supported by content. He cannot tarnish the entire institution with a single brush. “It would be crossing the Lakshman Rekha by a long shot,” the judges said.

The court directed the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology to ensure that the objectionable interviews and articles are taken down immediately. Assistant Solicitor-General L Victoria Gowri was directed to inform for compliance of the order. The court ordered Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to return the notices by October 14.

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