Kathmandu, February 12:

A division bench of Supreme Court Justices today referred the habeas corpus petition that was filed for the release of three journalists — Rishi Dhamala, Subhak Mahato and Birendra Kumar Mahato — to the special bench of the court, stating that serious constitutional and legal questions were raised in the case.

Stating that such questions should be settled by a larger bench, Justices Abadesh Kumar Yadav and Bharat Raj Upreti forwarded the case to the special bench.

The bench said lawyers arguing on behalf of the detained journalists

had claimed that a Chief District Officer had no legal authority to detain anybody.

The bench said such a question should be settled by the special bench as per Rule 4 (C) of the Supreme Court Regulation, 1992.

Stating that the Interim Constitution had not authorised CDOs as judicial authority, the lawyers had urged that the apex court to scrap the decision of Kathmandu CDO to keep the journalists in custody.

While arguing on behalf of the petitioner today, senior advocate Badri Bahadur Karki raised the legality of the detention. Other advocates Harihar Dahal, Sher Bahadur KC, Madav Banskota, Ram Krishna Nirala, Bhimarjun Acharya and Tikaram Bhattarai also called the apex court to release the journalists. They claimed that the detention was an attack on the free press.

Deputy attorney general Kumar Chundal and joint government attorney Yuva Raj Subedi pleaded on behalf of the government and claimed that the investigating authorities had sufficient evidences and clues to prove the charges against the journalists.