A resolution passed by the Karnataka Legislative Assembly sentencing two journalists to a year’s imprisonment for alleged defamation must be withdrawn.

On 22 June, the Speaker of the Assembly declared that the two journalists - Ravi Belagere and Anil Raju - were being sentenced to one year in prison and a fine of INR 10,000 each. The journalists have been accused of writing allegedly defamatory articles about the Speaker and other MLAs, including a member of the House Privileges Committee who had recommended the punishment. Indian law allows for Parliament and state legislatures to impose punishments for ‘breach of privilege’ for acts deemed to interfere with their work.

“Journalists must have the freedom to write critical articles, and politicians must be able to tolerate criticism,” said Asmita Basu, Programmes Director at Amnesty International India. “If individuals feel that their reputations have been affected, they can take recourse to civil defamation remedies in court.”

“All persons have a right to trial by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal. Breach of privilege laws allow politicians to become judges in their own cause, raising concerns of conflict of interest and violating basic fair trial guarantees. These laws must go.”

The UN Human Rights Committee has noted that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights - to which India is a state party - protects criticism of all public figures, and has said, “all public figures, including those exercising the highest political authority such as heads of state and government, are legitimately subject to criticism and political opposition.” It has expressed concern on laws on matters such as “disrespect for authority, disrespect for flags and symbols, defamation of the head of state and the protection of the honor of public officials”.