New Delhi: The Supreme Court has found prominent lawyer and civil rights activist Prashant Bhushan guilty in a suo moto contempt case over two of his tweets about the Chief Justice of India and the court.
A bench comprising Justices Arun Mishra, B R Gavai and Krishna Murari held that Bhushan committed "serious contempt of the Court".
The apex court is yet to decide on the quantum of punishment, and the hearing on the sentence is scheduled on August 20.
On July 22, the apex court had issued notice to Bhushan on the alleged contemptuous remarks on Twitter. The top court also asked the Attorney General to assist it on the matter. The apex court had asked Bhushan and Twitter to file a reply by August 5.
The mildest thing we can say about the SC contempt order on Prashant Bhushan is, a great institution is letting itself down. No criticism can undermine the top judiciary more than such thin-skinned shots fired in anger.— Shekhar Gupta (@ShekharGupta) August 14, 2020
"We are, prima facie, of the view that the aforesaid statements on Twitter have brought the administration of justice in disrepute and are capable of undermining the dignity and authority of the Institution of Supreme Court in general and the office of the Chief Justice of India in particular, in the eyes of public at large," said the court in its order.
Bhushan filed a detailed reply affidavit to the contempt notice, stating that expression of bona fide opinion about the Court cannot amount to contempt.
In the affidavit, Bhushan had sought for the copies of the original complaint of Advocate Mahek Maheshwari, which was converted into the suo moto case, and also the administrative orders which placed the matter on the judicial side of the SC, which were denied by the Secretary-General.
Through this act, the Supreme Court has let itself down, and has let the Republic down too. A dark day for Indian democracy.https://t.co/owN10z95FG— Ramachandra Guha (@Ram_Guha) August 14, 2020
Bhushan contended that in the absence of those documents, he was handicapped in dealing with contempt notice.
As regards his tweet about Chief Justice of India, SA Bobde, seated on a Harley Davidson motorcycle, Bhushan said that the comment was to underline his anguish at the non-physical functioning of the Supreme Court for the last more than three months.
Bhushan pointed how those in detention, destitute and poor, others facing serious and urgent grievances were not being addressed or taken up for redressal as a result of the non-physical functioning of the court.
Lord Denning wrote: "We do not fear criticism, nor do we resent it. For there is something far more important at stake. It is no less than freedom of speech itself."https://t.co/LtZsNIpCeZ— T M Krishna (@tmkrishna) August 14, 2020
"The fact about the CJI being seen in the presence of many people without a mask was meant to highlight the incongruity of the situation where the CJI (being the administrative head of the Supreme Court) keeps the court virtually in lockdown due to Covid fears (with hardly any cases being heard and those heard also by an unsatisfactory process through video conferencing) is on the other hand seen in a public place with several people around him without a mask. The fact that he was no a motorcycle costing 50 lakhs owned by a BJP leader had been established by documentary evidence published on social media. The fact that it was in Raj Bhavan had also been reported in various sections of the media, my expressing anguish by highlighting this incongruity and the attendant facts cannot be said to constitute contempt of court. If it were to be so regarded, it would stifle free speech and would constitute an unreasonable restriction of Article 19 (1Xa) of the Constitution," the reply reads.
SC finds @pbhushan1 guilty on the eve of our Independence Day. I don't think even the British ever punished dissenting or even critical voices of lawyers, poets, writers and intellectuals this way.— S lrfan Habib (@irfhabib) August 14, 2020
Soon after the verdict, several writers and academicians criticised the judgment. Noted historian Ramchandra Guha tweeted, "..the Supreme Court has let itself down, and has let the Republic down too. A dark day for Indian democracy."
Prominent Journalist Shekhar Gupta tweeted, "The mildest thing we can say about the SC contempt order on Prashant Bhushan is, a great institution is letting itself down. No criticism can undermine the top judiciary more than such thin-skinned shots fired in anger."
Singer TM Krishna who tagged the news clip of the verdict quoted Lord Denning who said, "We do not fear criticism, nor do we resent it. For there is something far more important at stake. It is no less than freedom of speech itself"
Prominent Historian S Irfan Habib tweeted, "I don't think even the British ever punished dissenting or even critical voices of lawyers, poets, writers and intellectuals this way."