The Supreme Court, which had taken less than a month to hold Prashant Bhushan guilty of contempt of court for two tweets on the microblogging site Twitter in June, on Monday court ordered him to pay a fine of one Rupee payable by the 15th of September, 2020 failing which he will have to undergo simple imprisonment for 3 months.
Contempt of Court is punishable by simple imprisonment extending up to six months or a fine that can extend to two thousand Rupees.
In the first tweet of June 27 this year, Prashant Bhushan had said that future historians would poorly judge the role of the apex court, particularly the last four CJIs, in safeguarding democracy. In the second tweet of June 29, he had posted a picture of the Chief Justice of India astride a Harley Davidson motorcycle in the Nagpur Raj Bhavan and questioned how it was happening “when he keeps the SC in lockdown mode denying citizens their fundamental right to access justice.”
In its order finding Bhushan guilty, the Supreme Court had stated, “The Indian judiciary is not just one but the central pillar on which Indian democracy stands…An attempt to shake the very foundation of constitutional democracy has to be dealt with an iron hand. The tweet has the effect of destabilizing the very foundation of this important pillar of Indian democracy.”
While senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, appearing for Prashant Bhushan, had argued that the shoulders of the court were broad enough to take criticism on its chin and two tweets could not possibly destabilize the most powerful court in the country, the Supreme Court bench felt that Bhushan’s tweets had undermined public confidence in the court. Dhavan had urged the Court “not to make Bhushan a martyr” by sending him to prison.
Attorney General KK Venugopal had suggested that Bhushan be let off with a warning. “Bhushan’s tweets seek the improvement of the administration of justice… Let democracy follow in this case when he has exercised his free speech… It will be tremendously appreciated if the court leaves it at that,” he had said.
The Supreme Court had sought an unconditional apology, maintaining that freedom of speech is not absolute. “You may do hundreds of good things, but that doesn’t give you a license to do ten crimes,” the court had said, giving Bhushan a three-day window to reconsider his stand. In a statement, Bhushan had expressed his gratitude to the court but maintained that he had given his tweets considerable thought, that he stood by them and he was not likely to make any substantial change in his stand.