The Supreme Court on Monday imposed a fine of Re 1 on activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan as punishment in the criminal contempt case. A bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra said Bhushan must deposit Re 1 by September 15 failure to which he would be jailed for three months besides a debarment from practice for 3 years.
The bench, in its order, took note that Bhushan chose not to apologise or express regret despite repeated opportunities. It pulled him up for rather making statements in the press about the contempt proceedings and leaking his statements even before they were considered by the court.
Here is everything that happened through the case.
Why was Prashant Bhushan Accused of Contempt of Court?
Lawyer Prashant Bhushan landed in trouble and faced contempt of court charges for a couple of tweets criticising the judiciary. In one tweet, he shared a photograph of Chief Justice of India SA Bobde riding a motorcycle while he did not wear a face mask despite the pandemic. In another tweet, he talked about the deteriorating state of Indian democracy and the role of the six CJIs. The apex court said not taking action against the tweets could "affect the (India's) national honour and prestige in the comity of nations".
Why did the top court ask Bhushan to apologise?
The court had granted Bhushan time to 'think over' his stand of not expressing regret over his tweets against the judiciary. The top court granted another opportunity to Bhushan after Attorney General KK Venugopal sought forgiveness for the activist-lawyer. "He (Bhushan) should withdraw all statements and express regret," said the top law officer when the bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra sought his views on the 'defiant' statement of Bhushan.
Bhushan's Refusal to Tender an Apology
Refusing to apologise for his tweets, Bhushan told the bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra, "I do not ask for mercy. I do not appeal for magnanimity. I cheerfully submit to any punishment that court may impose". He paraphrased a statement by Mahatma Gandhi and expressed sadness for not being shown the complaint on the basis of which the complaint was lodged. He said that his tweets were out of a "bona fide attempt to discharge his duty as a citizen". "I would have been failing in my duty if I did not speak up at this juncture of history. I submit to any penalty which the court may inflict. It would be contemptuous on my part to offer an apology," he said.
What Did Bhushan's Lawyer Say in the Court?
On August 25, the top court was urged by senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan to show "judicial statesmanship" and not make Bhushan a "martyr" by punishing him for contempt over his tweets criticising the judiciary, after the activist-lawyer rejected fresh suggestions from the court for an apology. The apex court on August 14 had held Bhushan guilty of criminal contempt for his tweets saying they cannot be said to be a fair criticism of the functioning of the judiciary made in the public interest.
Has the Case Ended?
Bhushan said that he reserves the right to seek review the court order and will pay the fine of Re 1. "The case has inspired several citizens to raise their voice against injustice. My tweets were based on what I regarded as the highest duty of a citizen," Bhushan has said.
The Public Outrage Against the Top Court
Earlier, Nearly 3,000 people of import including 12 former judges signed a statement in solidarity with Bhushan and criticised the top court and called it the 'Court's 'guilty' verdict' as it sought apology from Bhushan in contempt of court case based on two tweets. "To hold that such criticism (as put forth by Bhushan in his tweets) shakes the foundations of the judiciary and needs to be dealt with an iron hand appears to be a disproportionate response which could, in fact, diminish the reputation of the Court,” the statement read.