The Supreme Court on Friday held activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan guilty of contempt for his two derogatory tweets against the judiciary. A bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra said it would hear on August 20 the arguments on quantum of sentence to be awarded to Bhushan in the matter.
A contemnor can be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend up to six months or with a fine of up to Rs 2,000 or with both. The apex court had on August 5 reserved its verdict in the matter after Bhushan had defended his tweets, saying they were against the judges regarding their conduct in their personal capacity and they did not obstruct the administration of justice.
On July 22, the top court had issued a show-cause notice to Bhushan after initiating the criminal contempt against him after taking note of a petition. While referring to the tweets by Bhushan, the apex court had earlier said these statements are prima facie capable of “undermining the dignity and authority” of the institution of the Supreme Court in general and the office of Chief Justice of India in particular, in the eyes of the public at large Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, appearing for Bhushan in the matter, had said, “The two tweets were not against the institution”.
Bhushan has made immense contributions to the development of jurisprudence and there are “at least 50 judgments to his credit”, Dave had said, adding that the court has appreciated his contributions in cases like 2G scam, coal block allocation and in mining matters. Referring to the ADM Jabalpur case on the suspension of fundamental rights during the Emergency, the senior advocate had said that even “extremely uncharitable” remarks against the judges were made and no contempt proceedings were made out.
In a 142-page reply affidavit filed in the matter, Bhushan had stood by his two tweets and had said the expression of opinion, “however outspoken, disagreeable or unpalatable to some”, cannot constitute contempt of court. Bhushan, in the affidavit, has referred to several apex court judgements, speeches of former and serving judges on contempt of court, and the “stifling of dissent” in a democracy and his views on judicial actions in some cases.
Preventing citizens from demanding accountability and reforms and advocating for the same by generating public opinion is not a “reasonable restriction”, the affidavit had said, adding that the Article 129 cannot be pressed into service to stifle bonafide criticism.