Advocate Prashant Bhushan, who is facing contempt proceedings over his tweets on the judiciary, on Monday filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court, saying that the power of contempt must not be used to stifle voices that seek accountability from a court for its errors, Live Law reported.
“To prevent a citizen from forming, holding and expressing ‘bonafide opinion’ in public interest on any institution and from ‘evaluating’ its performance is not a reasonable restriction on fundamental right to free speech,” Bhushan said in response to the contempt notice against him.
Bhushan added that the Supreme Court remained a “mute spectator” during the communal violence that broke out in North East Delhi in February, according to the Hindustan Times.
“Justice DY Chandrachud, while delivering the 15th PD Desai Memorial Lecture in the Gujarat high court on February 15, had expressed his anguish at the manner in which dissent was labelled as anti-national,” his affidavit stated. “Yet, a week later, when the Delhi riots were unleashed, with daily videos emerging of mobs tearing down and burning mosques, the police systematically destroying public CCTVs and taking an active part in stone-throwing, the SC remained a mute spectator while the national capital burnt.”
The contempt notice against Bhushan is related to two tweets posted by him on June 27 and 29. The first tweet spoke about undeclared emergency and the role of Supreme Court and last four chief justices of India. The second tweet was about Chief Justice SA Bobde trying out a Harley Davidson superbike in his hometown Nagpur.
Bhushan said that his tweet about the last four chief justices was his “bonafide impression” about them. The advocate added that it was his opinion that the top court had allowed the democracy to be destroyed. Bhushan said that even though his personal views were “outspoken, disagreeable or unpalatable”, they couldn’t count as contempt.
The advocate said that his tweet about Bobde, on the other hand, was to “express my anguish at the non physical functioning of the Supreme Court for the last more than three months, as a result of which the fundamental rights of citizens were not being addressed or taken up for redressal”.
Bhushan said that he had criticised Bobde for not wearing a mask to highlight “the incongruity where the CJI [chief justice of India] virtually keeps the court in lockdown due to COVID fears but is seen in a public place with several people around him without a mask”.
Bhushan admitted that he had made a mistake in one part of his tweet, according to News18. “At the outset I admit that I did not notice that the bike [that Bobde was trying] was on a stand and therefore wearing a helmet was not required,” he said. “I, therefore, regret that part of my tweet. However, I stand by the remaining part of what I have stated in my tweet.
On Saturday, Bhushan had filed a petition in the Supreme Court, seeking withdrawal of the contempt notice issued against him on July 22 and another order passed by the court on July 24 to list a case from 2009 for hearing.
On July 21, the Supreme Court initiated suo motu criminal contempt proceedings against advocate Prashant Bhushan and social media platform Twitter India. The next day, the top court issued notices to Bhushan and Attorney General KK Venugopal for the lawyer’s alleged derogatory tweets against the judiciary. The case will be heard again on August 5.
The Supreme Court, on July 24, had adjourned the hearing of another contempt case against advocate Bhushan till August 4. Bhushan had made some remarks against Supreme Court judges in an interview to Tehelka magazine 11 years ago, in 2009. The contempt of court case was filed by advocate Harish Salve.