NEW DELHI, India Arundhati Roy, a prize-winning Indian novelist, was jailed Wednesday after the Supreme Court convicted her of criminal contempt for suggesting it was trying to "silence criticism" of its approval of a hydroelectric project.
Arundhati Roy, winner of Booker Prize, Britain's most prestigious literature award, attends a candlelight vigil for the people killed in the Indian state of Gujarat in New Delhi Sunday, March 3, 2002. On March 6, Roy was found guilty of contempt of court over a campaign to halt the building of a controversial dam. Roy, a booker prize-winning novelist and passionate campaigner against the construction of a billion-dollar dam in western India, was sentenced to one "symbolic" day of imprisonment and driven away by the police.
As about 250 supporters stood outside with banners reading "Free speech is not contempt," the court sentenced Roy to one day in prison and a $42 fine. It she does not pay, she will spend three months in prison, the court said.
As she was taken from the court to Bihar Jail, Indian's largest prison, Roy she would decide Thursday whether to pay the fine and that she stood by her criticism of the court.
"I am prepared to suffer the consequences," she said. "The message is clear. Any citizen who dares to criticize the court does so at his or her peril."
Roy won the prestigious Booker Prize in 1997 for her novel "The God of Small Things." She has written articles criticizing India's nuclear program and is a prominent campaigner against the Narmada Dam, the nation's biggest hydroelectric project.
In October 2000, she was in a crowd that protested outside the Supreme Court after it approved construction of the dam in central India.
Opposing attorneys in the Narmada case accused her of contempt of court. When the court began considering that, she filed an affidavit suggesting she should not have to appear before the panel. She said it "creates a disturbing impression that there is an inclination on the part of the court to silence criticism and muzzle dissent."
Although the contempt charges against her in the original case were dismissed, the Supreme Court itself accused her of contempt for the comments in her affidavit and convicted her Wednesday.
A two-judge panel said she was guilty of "scandalizing it and lowering its dignity through her statements." It said freedom of speech does not grant anyone license to do that.
Supporters of Indian novelist Arundhati Roy gather outside New Delhi's Supreme Court March 6, 2002 as the author is found guilty of contempt of court over a campaign to halt the building of a controversial dam. REUTERS/B. Mathur
Roy faced up to six months in prison for contempt. The court said that in sentencing her to one day, it was "showing magnanimity of law by keeping in mind that the respondent is a woman."
Police detained about 200 protesters at the Supreme Court building Wednesday, saying they would be released later. Many are Narmada Valley residents whose homes could be flooded when the dam is built.
Opponents of the project say it will harm small farmers and displace tens of thousands of villagers. Roy donated her Booker Prize winnings about $30,000 to the campaign against the dam.
Roy's lawyer, Prashant Bhushan, said she will challenge the conviction, calling it a "setback to the freedom of the common citizen to discuss matters of enormous public significance."
© 2002 The Associated Press