Lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan, held guilty of contempt for his tweets criticising Chief Justice of India SA Bobde and the Supreme Court, has been fined Re 1 by the top court.
A three-judge bench said that if Bhushan fails to deposit the amount by September 15, he will have to undergo simple imprisonment for three months and will be barred from practising for three years.
“Freedom of speech cannot be curtailed,” said the Supreme Court while handing down the sentence, referring to “sane advice” from Attorney General KK Venugopal to the court and to Prashant Bhushan.
Though the court gave him time to “think over”, Bhushan maintained that he will not apologise and in a statement on August 24 said that the views expressed by him through his tweets represented his bona fide (good faith) beliefs and, therefore, an apology for expressing such beliefs would be insincere.
Prashant Bhushan had refused to retract his comments or apologise, saying he considered it the discharge of his “highest duty” and apologizing would be contempt of his conscience and the court. Open criticism was necessary to “safeguard the democracy and its values,” he had said, adding that he would cheerfully accept punishment.
In one of the tweets, Prashant Bhushan had said four previous Chief Justices of India played a role in destroying democracy in India in the last six years. Another tweet commenting on a photo of Chief Justice Bobde on a Harley Davidson last month, had flagged that he was without a helmet and face mask while keeping the court in lockdown and denying citizens their right to justice.
Mr Bhushan has already expressed regret in another contempt case involving his comment that half the 16 Chief Justices of India were corrupt, in an interview to Tehelka magazine in 2009. The word corruption, he told the court, was used in “wide sense meaning lack of propriety” and not financial corruption. The Supreme Court says it wants to explore whether corruption charges can be made against sitting and retired judges and the procedure to deal with it.