Advocate Prashant Bhushan's recent statement in the Supreme Court while appearing for a case of contempt has perhaps become one of the most shared statements made in court in recent times. Refusing to apologise for two tweets that the apex court had found in contempt, 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".
The quote, paraphrasing a statement by Mahatma Gandhi and part of a larger response outlining Bhushant's pain at not being shown the complaint on the basis of which the complaint was lodged, has gone viral on social media. Many have called Bhushan a star and a "hero of our times" for standing up to authority for what he thought was right.
What did Prashant Bhushan say in court?
On Thursday, Bhushan told a bench comprising of Justices Arun Mishra, BR Gavai, and Krishna Murari, that he was pained that the court found him guilty of contempt but that he would not apologise for two tweets in question.
The lawyer further 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 are the tweets that have been held in contempt by the Supreme Court?
The SC bench has found two tweets made by Prashant Bhushan to be in contempt of court. One was regarding a photo of Chief Justice of India SA Bobde riding a motorcycle that Bhushan shared, commenting on the fact that the CJI was not wearing a mask despite the pandemic.
The second tweet was about the deteriorating state of Indian democracy and the role of the six CJIs. As per the SC, not taking action against the tweets could "affect the (India's) national honour and prestige in the comity of nations".
What did the court say?
The court had on Friday found Bhushan to be guilty of contempt and had said that it would announce the full quantum of punishment on August 20. After Bhushan's statement which the court called "defiant", the SC bench has given Bhushan time till August 24 to reconsider his opinion.
"Criminal contempt has serious consequences. Whatever has been done is done. But we want the person concerned to have a sense of remorse. The person must reconsider," said Justice Mishra.
The Supreme Court has rejected the submission of Bhushan that the arguments on quantum of sentence in the contempt proceedings in which he has been held guilty be heard by another top court bench.
A bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra gave assurance to Bhushan that no punishment will be acted upon till his review against the order convicting him in the case will be decided. "We will be fair to you, whether or not you are fair to us," the judge noted.
Why the outrage against SC?
Advocate Rajeev Dhavan, representing Bhushan, said that he has provided a bonafide justification of his tweets and that it is unclear how his tweets could bring down the majesty of the judiciary.
Dhavan emphasized that the court must also remain mindful that the person before it was someone who has filed several cases in the public interest.
Nearly 3,000 people of import including 12 former judges have signed a statement in solidarity with Bhushan and criticizing the Court's 'guilty' verdict.
"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.
Many including renowned economist Arun Shourie felt that a 108-page guilty verdict for the court against Bhushan for merely two tweets may reflect the "insecurity" of India's judiciary. "If a puff of two tweets can shake the central pillar of the largest democracy in the world, it revealed the judiciary’s own view of how weak it has become," Shourie said in an interview to The Wire.
Critics of SC on social media have hailed Bhushan as a hero and have slammed the Mishra-led Bench for allegedly attempting to stifle dissent and democratic debate.
Who is Prashant Bhushan?
Prashant Bhushan is a legal activist and Public Interest Litigation lawyer who was part of the India Against Corruption (IAC) movement known as Team Anna. Bhushan's father was a Union law minister under the Morarji Desai government. Apart from working for environmental reforms and human rights, Bhushan's main area of interest has been working to make public servants more accountable. He is part of several associations such as entre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL), People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), and Transparency International (India) and is also the convenor for the Working Committee of the Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Judicial Reforms.