New Delhi, August 11, 2017–An Indian court’s preliminary injunction preventing the publication and sale of a biography of a spiritual guru while it considers whether the book defames the guru is a blow to press freedom, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
The Karkardooma District Court in New Delhi on August 4 issued a preliminary, ex parte injunction–an injunction in which only one party to a dispute was heard–restraining Juggernaut Books from publishing independent journalist Priyanka Pathak-Narain’s biography of spiritual guru Baba Ramdev until it could rule on Ramdev’s complaint that the book, Godman to Tycoon: The Untold Story of Baba Ramdev, defames him. Juggernaut Books today said in a press release it received the order yesterday. Neither the publisher nor the author were invited to the proceedings, according to the court order, which CPJ has seen, in order to avoid “the delay which would be caused during the process of serving the notice and hearing the defendants.”
Pathak-Narain told CPJ the court had summoned her to attend a September 1 hearing, when she hoped to state her case.
“The ban on independent journalist Priyanka Pathak-Narain’s Godman to Tycoon is the latest example of the excessive use of defamation laws to restrict the flow of information in India,” CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Steven Butler said from Washington, D.C.
The order also restrained Amazon.com and Flipkart.com from selling the book. In its press release, Juggernaut Books said that it would welcome the chance to defend the book, noting that it was the product of extensive interviews, including with the subject of the book. “We stand by our book, will defend the case, and will move the court to vacate the injunction,” the publisher’s statement said.
A spokesperson for Baba Ramdev, SK Tijarawala, told CPJ, “Whatever we had to say, we have said it in court,” and declined to comment further.
In March, a city civil court in the southern Indian city of Bengaluru likewise issued a preliminary injunction ordering The Wire, a news website, to take down two articles critical of Rajeev Chandrashekhar, a member of India’s upper house of parliament, before The Wire had had a chance to respond to allegations the articles were defamatory, CPJ documented at the time.