Lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan, found guilty in a contempt case for tweeting against the judiciary, has decided to pay the ₹1 token fine imposed by the Supreme Court on Monday (August 31). He also indicated that he would also file a review plea against the order.
Addressing a press conference by Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms (CJAR) and Swaraj Abhiyan, Bhushan said he has the greatest respect for the judiciary and that his tweets were not intended to disrespect the apex court or the judiciary.
“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,” said the 63-year-old lawyer-activist.
“My tweets were not intended to disrespect the Supreme Court but were meant to express my anguish at what I felt was a deviation from its sterling record. This is a watershed moment for freedom of speech and seems to have encouraged many people to speak out against injustices,” he told the conference.
“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,” he said.
The issue was never about “me versus the Judges, much less about me versus the Supreme Court,” Mr. Bhushan said.
A bench led by Justice Arun Mishra, earlier in the day, imposed a ₹1 token fine on Bhushan in the contempt case. He was asked to deposit the fine by September 15, failing which he will attract a jail term of three months and debarment from law practice for three years.
Following the sentencing, Bhushan tweeted that his lawyer Rajeev Dhavan has contributed the fined amount (₹1) to him which he has “gratefully accepted”.
In its order, the apex court bench, also comprising Justices B R Gavai and Krishna Murari, noted that freedom of speech cannot be curtailed but rights of others need to be respected.
The verdict said not only the bench had persuaded Bhushan to express regret but Attorney General KK Venugopal had also opined that it was in the fitness of thing that the contemnor should express regret.
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During an earlier hearing, the bench had orally observed that the sentence, if any, will not be enforced against Mr. Bhushan till the decision is taken on his plea seeking review of the judgment convicting him in the contempt case.
On August 14, the apex court had held Bhushan guilty of criminal contempt for his two derogatory tweets against the judiciary and maintained they cannot be said to be a fair criticism of the functioning of the judiciary made in public interest.
Bhushan, in his statement, had refused to offer an apology to the Supreme Court for the tweets, saying what he had expressed his bona fide belief which he continued to hold.
On August 25, senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan had urged the top court to show “judicial statesmanship” and not make Bhushan a “martyr” by punishing him for contempt over the tweets, after the activist-lawyer rejected fresh suggestions from the court for an apology.
Dhavan, representing Bhushan, had suggested that the top court recall the August 14 verdict convicting the activist lawyer and not to impose any sentence. He urged it to not only close the case but also to bring an end to the controversy.
Venugopal had requested the court to forgive Bhushan with a message that he should not repeat this act. He also said Bhushan, who has been refusing to tender an unconditional apology for the tweets, should withdraw all statements and express regret.