The Supreme Court on Monday (August 31) imposed a fine of Re 1 on activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan who was held guilty of contempt for his tweets criticising the judiciary and the Chief Justice of India (CJI).
A bench of justices Arun Mishra, BR Gavai and Krishna Murari asked Bhushan to pay the fine by September 15, failing which he will be barred from practising law for three years or face three months imprisonment.
While handing down the sentence, the Supreme Court said, “Freedom of speech cannot be curtailed,” referring to “sane advice” from Attorney General KK Venugopal to the court.
Prashant Bhushan immediately tweeted a photograph of himself holding a Re 1 coin. “My lawyer & senior colleague Rajiv Dhavan contributed 1 Re immediately after the contempt judgement today which I gratefully accepted.”
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In another tweet, he said he would reveal later today whether he would pay the fine or confront the other options.
On Monday (August 31), the Supreme Court said, “We gave several opportunities and encouragement to (Prashant Bhushan) to express regret. He not only gave wide publicity to the second statement but also gave various interviews to press.”
The court was referring to Bushan’s statement refusing to retract his comments or apologise. The 63-year-old lawyer also said that open criticism was necessary to “safeguard the democracy and its values.”
The SC interpreted his public statements as an attempt “to influence independent Judicial function,” adding that while freedom of expression was important, rights of others should also be respected.
Earlier on August 14, the Supreme Court had held Bhushan guilty of contempt over two tweets made on June 29. In one, he had passed remarks on CJI SA Bobde riding a Harley Davidson bike without wearing a helmet. In another tweet, he had targeted the last four CJIs for “destroying democracy.”
The Supreme Court had asked the activist-lawyer to apologise for his tweets.
While Bhushan had apologised for the tweet on Bobde, he refused to say sorry for his other tweets, stating that it was his “bonafide impression” about the manner of functioning of the Supreme Court in the past few years.
The court, however, had given him time till August 24 to submit an “unconditional apology” if he wishes.
During a hearing on the sentencing on August 24, Bhushan in a supplementary statement had once again refused to apologise for his tweet, while Attorney General KK Venugopal had urged the court to let him go after a warning.