Prashant Bhushan fined Re. 1 in contempt case by SC
After multiple hearings replete with arguments, the Supreme Court pronounced its verdict in the Prashant Bhushan contempt case on Monday, asking the lawyer-activist to pay Re. 1 as fine by September 15. If he fails to meet the deadline, Bhushan will be barred from practicing for three years and would be imprisoned for three months. He was held guilty of contempt earlier this month.
The 63-year-old lawyer posted two tweets, one about current CJI SA Bobde and another concerning his predecessors. Criticizing his work, Bhushan said CJI Bobde was reveling in leisure by riding a Harley Davidson bike when the top judicial body was locked down. In the second tweet, he claimed the last four CJIs compromised the values of the judiciary. Unsurprisingly, SC fumed at his opinion.
A bench of the top court, headed by outgoing Justice Arun Mishra and including Justices BR Gavai and Krishna Murari, took a suo motu cognizance of the matter. On August 14, he was held guilty of contempt and days later, was asked to "reconsider" his words. When his window for "rethinking" ended, Bhushan told the court he would not apologize.
In his response to SC, Bhushan said he will not apologize for his words, as he believes them to be true. An insincere apology, he added, would "amount to the contempt of my conscience and of an institution (the top court) I hold in the highest esteem." He also expressed willingness to accept any punishment that comes his way.
On August 25, the government's top lawyer KK Venugopal made a case for Bhushan, urging the bench to forgive him and shut the matter. "He should withdraw the allegations and the court should drop the proceedings after warning him not to repeat this," Venugopal suggested. But Justice Mishra wondered what he was supposed to do when Bhushan was not even apologetic.
Justice Mishra also said that Bhushan "gave color" to a simple case against his tweets and noted that his response was more "derogatory" than his original comments. He also asked Bhushan what was "wrong with apologizing if his words hurt someone." In one of the earlier hearings, Justice Mishra had commented that he never convicted anyone of contempt in his 24-year-long career.
Handing over the sentence today, the bench said, "Freedom of speech cannot be curtailed." The bench said Bhushan got plenty of opportunities to express regret. "He not only gave wide publicity to the second statement but also gave various interviews to press," SC added. Punished by SC, Bhushan is now, reportedly, deciding whether he should pay the fine or "explore other options."