Senior advocate Prashant Bhushan, found guilty of criminal contempt for two tweets, on Monday said that he will respectfully pay the fine of Re 1 imposed by the Supreme Court of India. Bhushan said he has the greatest respect for the Supreme Court.
Earlier in the day, a three-judge bench of the court headed by Justice Arun Mishra let Bhushan off with a fine of Re 1. He will face three months’ imprisonment and a three-year ban on legal practice if he fails to pay the fine by September 15.
“I propose to submit myself to this order and will respectfully pay the fine as I would have submitted to any lawful punishment,” Bhushan said at a press conference in Delhi. “I reserve my right to seek a review and will pay the fine Re 1.”
The advocate said his tweets were not intended to disrespect, but meant to express his anguish at the Supreme Court’s deviation from its sterling record. “When the Supreme Court wins, everybody wins,” he added. “I’m extremely grateful and humbled by the support I have received. This case has become a watershed movement for freedom of speech and has encouraged people to stand up and speak about the injustices in the society. I am more confident than ever that truth shall prevail.”
Read Bhushan’s full statement here:
The Supreme Court of India has announced its verdict on the contempt case against me. It holds me guilty of contempt of court and has decided to impose a fine of Re 1, and failing that imprisonment of three months and debarring me from practicing for three years. I had already said in my first statement to the Court: “I am here to cheerfully submit to any penalty that can lawfully be inflicted upon me for what the Court has determined to be an offence, and what appears to me to be the highest duty of a citizen”.
Therefore, while I reserve the right to seek a review of the conviction and sentencing, by way of an appropriate legal remedy, I propose to submit myself to this order and will respectfully pay the fine, just as I would have submitted to any other lawful punishment.
I have had the greatest respect for the institution of the Supreme Court. I have always believed it to be the last bastion of hope, particularly for the weak and the oppressed who knock at its door for the protection of their rights, often against a powerful executive. My tweets were not intended in any way to disrespect the Supreme Court or the judiciary as a whole, but were merely meant to express my anguish, at what I felt, was a deviation from its sterling past record. This issue was never about me versus the Hon’ble Judges, much less about me vs the Supreme Court. When the Supreme Court of India wins, every Indian wins. Every Indian wants a strong and independent judiciary. Obviously if the courts get weakened, it weakens the republic and harms every citizen.
I am extremely grateful and humbled by the solidarity and support expressed by countless persons, ex-judges, lawyers, activists and fellow citizens who encouraged me to remain firm and true to my beliefs and conscience. They strengthen my hope that this trial may draw the country’s attention to the cause of freedom of speech and judicial accountability and reform. What is very heartening is that this case has become a watershed moment for freedom of speech and seems to have encouraged many people to stand up and speak out against the injustices in our society.
I would be failing in my duty if I do not thank my legal team, especially senior Advocates Dr Rajeev Dhawan and Shri Dushyant Dave. I am more confident now than ever before that truth shall prevail.
Long live democracy! Satyameva Jayate!
Swaraj India President Yogendra Yadav, who was present along with Bhushan at the press conference, welcomed the top court’s verdict and said if “the courts weaken, the country and every citizen becomes weak”, NDTV reported.
“Today is not about who won or lost,” Yadav added. “Every citizen of the country wants the Supreme Court to win. When the Supreme Court wins, every Indian wins.”
Bhushan was held guilty of contempt of court on August 14. The case pertains to two tweets posted by Bhushan on June 27 and June 29. In one tweet, he made a remark about an undeclared emergency and the role of the Supreme Court and last four chief justices of India. The second tweet was about Chief Justice SA Bobde trying a Harley Davidson superbike in his hometown Nagpur during the coronavirus outbreak.
Justice Mishra, who delivered the judgement, said that multiple opportunities were given to Bhushan to express regret over his remarks. “He [Bhushan] not only gave wide publicity to the second statement but also gave various interviews to press,” the bench said. “We have considered the sane advice given by the attorney general, and have concluded that the conduct of present contemnor also needs to be taken into consideration.”
The top court said that Bhushan’s statement, in which he said that offering an apology for his constructive criticism of the judiciary would amount to the “contempt of his conscience”, was made to “influence independent judicial function”. The court noted that freedom of speech was important but rights of others must also be respected.
Following the August 14 judgement, more than 3,000 members of civil society, including former judges, retired bureaucrats, journalists and lawyers criticised the Supreme Court’s order. Over 1,800 members of the bar have also criticised the Supreme Court’s decision, besides Opposition leaders, lawyers, and human rights organisations.
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In the last hearing on August 25, the top court had said it was “painful” to read Bhushan’s statements and justifications with regard to the case. “This is not the way a senior lawyer like Bhushan over 30 years of experience should behave,” Justice Arun Mishra had said. The top court had, however, reserved its ruling after numerous arguments as Bhushan refused to apologise.
Bhushan had told the court on August 24 that offering an “insincere apology” for his genuine criticism of the judiciary would amount to the “contempt of his conscience.
On August 25, the Supreme Court also referred a 2009 contempt case against Bhushan to an “appropriate bench” that will take up the matter on September 10. The case is related to Bhushan’s interview to Tehelka magazine 11 years ago in which he made allegations of corruption in the Supreme Court and said half of the previous 16 chief justices were corrupt. The contempt of court case was filed by advocate Harish Salve.