Indian justice grinds slowly, but not so finely

First, a bit of history: In 2008, CPJ reported:

The high court in the western state of Gujarat defended the media, rebuking a prosecutor for demanding state regulation of newspaper content. The prosecution sought restrictions after the Ahmedabad police commissioner filed sedition charges against a Times of India editor and reporter, and a Gujarat Samachar photographer.

The criminal charges were still pending at the end of 2008, we reported. The journalists’ crime had been to write a series of articles mentioning complaints against O.P. Mathur, who had recently been appointed police commissioner. Their reporting linked him to a leader of organized crime.

Fast-forward to this Wednesday, when those sedition charges were quashed. The Ahmedabad High Court ruled that the intent of the articles, which also polled readers on their opinion of the official’s ability to perform his duties, were not illegal, and did not “incite the people against the police,” as Mathur had claimed.

Reporting on the ruling, The Times of India quoted the court as saying the articles were a “strongly worded criticism and comment with intention to improve the condition and not to incite violence or disaffection among people” — in other words, journalism.

That’s four years of slowly grinding justice, but at least justice was eventually meted.

Justice systems vary from country to country, and reflect societal norms as much as they do the need for the rule of law. Given those political and cultural variations, it’s difficult to rank justice systems. But at least by one standard, CPJ data finds India’s to be the 12th worst in the world. When it comes to prosecuting the killers of journalists, India is not getting any better. According to CPJ’s 2012 global Impunity Index:

With six unsolved murders, India retains its place on the index. All of the victims were print journalists who reported on crime, corruption, or politics. Despite India’s status as the world’s largest democracy and its tradition of having vibrant news media, its leaders have shown little political will to address impunity in attacks on news media. In March, India led opposition to the U.N. journalist safety plan that included anti-impunity efforts.

The Times of India staff members, given that they were “print journalists who reported on crime, corruption and politics,” were fortunate only to be hit with a frivolous sedition case — which is actually not so frivolous, given that sedition can lead to the death penalty in India. Those reporters, at last, got their day in court. There are six dead journalists who never got their day in court, and looks like they never will.