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Last Updated: Saturday, 8 November, 2003, 10:20 GMT
Top India paper staff face jail
Front page of The Hindu Saturday 8 November 2003
Front page news: High drama at The Hindu
Senior staff at one of India's leading newspapers have gone into hiding after authorities in the state of Tamil Nadu ordered their arrest.

Police raided The Hindu's offices after the state assembly sentenced five journalists to 15 days in prison for what it called breach of privilege.

The Hindu newspaper had carried stories critical of the state government.

In a front page editorial on Saturday, the newspaper said the raid was a violation of the right to free speech.

Shortly after the Tamil Assembly ordered the journalists' detention, dozens of police officers, some in riot gear, raided the offices of the 125-year-old newspaper in Madras.

The Hindu's editor-in chief N Ram refused to let them enter without an arrest warrant, insisting that the journalists they sought - the editor, executive editor, publisher and two reporters - were not there.

The officers returned a short while later with one warrant, and carried out a full search of the premises under the glare of the television cameras.

The privileges committee of the assembly of Tamil Nadu said that four articles in The Hindu last April had been in gross contempt of the assembly.

Film star

At the heart of the row are the newspaper's descriptions of the state's chief minister, Jayalalitha.

Jayalalitha: One of India's most controversial politicians
The BBC's Charles Havilland in Madras says she is a charismatic, confrontational and highly sensitive former film diva, whose party dominates the assembly.

One of The Hindu's reports described her as having delivered "stinging abuse" against opposition politicians in "a high-pitched tone".

Another talked of her delivering " a diatribe".


In its editorial, The Hindu on Saturday accused the assembly of misusing its position to clamp down on press freedom.

"Legislative privilege," the editorial says, " ...was never intended to be used as a crude instrument to threaten the independent media and trample on the fundamental right of free expression, which includes fair comment and criticism."

Editors of rival papers in Delhi have also condemned what one called "a blatant act of repression".

The Hindu is trying to get a court stay on the arrest order and journalists in Madras have announced that they will stage a day-long protest fast on Sunday.

Our correspondent says these are dramatic developments surrounding a newspaper whose reputation for sober seriousness is second to none in India.

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