Lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan was held guilty of contempt for his tweets criticising the Chief Justice of India SA Bobde and the Supreme Court.
Lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan, held guilty of contempt for his tweets criticising the Chief Justice of India SA Bobde and the Supreme Court, is expected to receive his sentence today. The 63-year-old has refused to retract or apologise, maintaining that it would be contempt of his conscience and the court.
His lawyer has argued that that the court must and should take extreme criticism as its “shoulders are broad enough”. Attorney General KK Venugopal has also argued against punishment. Maintaining that the judges cannot “go to press to defend themselves or explain,” the court cited Mr Bhushan’s high standing within the legal system. “Had it been someone else, it was easier to ignore,” the court had said.
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“You (Prashant Bhushan) are part of the system; you cannot destroy the system. We have to respect each other. If we are going to destroy each other, who will have faith in this institution?” said the three-judge bench led by Justice Arun Mishra at the last hearing on Tuesday.
Prashant Bhushan was found guilty of contempt earlier this month for tweets which he argued were “discharge of highest duty”. Open criticism is necessary to “safeguard the democracy and its values,” he had said, adding that he would cheerfully accept punishment.
The Supreme Court had sought an unconditional apology, maintaining that freedom of speech is not absolute. “You may do hundreds of good things, but that doesn’t give you a license to do ten crimes,” the court had said, giving him a three-day time window to consider the matter.
Mr Bhushan said he did not expect any “substantial change” in his stand. “If I retract a statement before this court that I otherwise believe to be true and offer an insincere apology, that in my eyes would amount to the contempt of my conscience and of an institution I hold in highest esteem,” he told the judges.
At the last hearing, Mr Bhushan’s counsel Rajiv Dhavan argued that top court’s order giving him time for an unconditional apology, was “an exercise in coercion”. “It looks like as if a contemnor is coerced to give an apology so that it gets over. No court can pass an order like this,” he had argued.
“This institution must take criticism, and not just criticism but extreme criticism. Your shoulders are broad enough,” Mr Dhavan had argued. He said Mr Bhushan should be forgiven with a message, not a reprimand or warning. “One cannot be silenced forever… A message that he (Prashan Bhushan) should be little restrained in future should be enough,” he had added.
Attorney General KK Venugopal had suggested that Mr Bhushan be let off with a warning. “Bhushan’s tweets seek the improvement of the administration of justice… Let democracy follow in this case when he has exercised his free speech… It will be tremendously appreciated if the court leaves it at that,” he had said.
The other tweet accused Chief Justice SA Bobde of riding a motorcycle – he was photographed on a Harley Davidson in Nagpur last month – without a helmet and face mask, while keeping the court in lockdown and denying citizens their right to justice.