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SC holds Prashant Bhushan guilty of contempt for tweets on CJI, judiciary; sentencing on August 20

Advocate Bhushan has said that he was ‘exercising his freedom of speech’ and giving his opinion about the functioning of the court, and it does not amount to ‘obstruction of justice’, necessitating the contempt proceedings.

SNS | New Delhi |

The Supreme Court on Friday held senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan guilty of contempt of court for his alleged tweets on Chief Justice of India SA Bobde and his four predecessors.

The apex court is yet to decide on the quantum of punishment, and the hearing on the sentence is scheduled on August 20.

A three-judge bench of Justices Arun Mishra, BR Gavai and Krishna Murari delivered the verdict on Bhushan’s tweets.

Advocate Bhushan has said that he was “exercising his freedom of speech” and giving his opinion about the functioning of the court, and it does not amount to “obstruction of justice”, necessitating the contempt proceedings.

On July 22, the Supreme Court had issued notices to Prashant Bhushan and Twitter Inc on the alleged contemptuous remarks on judiciary posted on Twitter.

The bench questioned Twitter why it can’t disable the tweets on its own even after a contempt proceeding has been initiated.

The apex court initiated suo motu contempt proceedings against Bhushan for publishing two tweets, the first tweet, which was posted on June 27 alleged that the last four Chief Justices had played a role in the “destruction of democracy” during undeclared “emergency” for last six years.

“When historians in future look back at the last 6 years to see how democracy has been destroyed in India even without a formal Emergency, they will particularly mark the role of the Supreme Court in this destruction, & more particularly the role of the last 4 CJIs”, said the tweet by Bhushan.

And the second tweet on June 29 allegedly said the present Chief Justice rode a stationary bike at Nagpur while keeping the apex court in lockdown and denying citizens their right to access to justice.

Earlier on Monday, the Supreme Court had refused to accept the expression of regret by Bhushan in the 11-year-old contempt case against him and noted that it will continue to hear the matter.

Posting the matter for further hearing for today, the top court said that it will hear in detail whether any comment on corruption against judges tantamount to contempt of court or not, adding that it will hear the 2009 contempt case against lawyer Prashant Bhushan.

A bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra said that it has decided to hear whether the remarks made by Senior Advocate Prashant Bhushan against the higher judiciary in a Tehelka magazine interview is “per se contempt”.

The contempt case involves statements that Prashant Bhushan made during an interview to Tehelka magazine in 2009, in which he said half the 16 Chief Justices of India were corrupt.

On August 4, the top court, while hearing the case, had observed that “there is a thin line between free speech and contempt, adding that the issue now is how to save the system’s grace and bring the matter to an end as well.”

Bhushan has long been raising issues pertaining to judiciary and had recently been vocal of the way in which the top court had handled matters related to migrant workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

He also made statements relating to the treatment meted out to jailed activists like Varavara Rao and Sudha Bharadwaj who are accused in Bhima-Koregaon case.

Over the past decade, Bhushan has been instrumental in raising several issues touching upon corruption in high places – from the 2G scam to Rafale, the medical college scam and the Birla-Sahara diaries.