Updated: August 20, 2020 10:33:21 pm
Expressing that he was “pained” at being “grossly misunderstood”, advocate Prashant Bhushan Thursday told the Supreme Court that his tweets, which were held contemptuous by the court, were not done in “absence mindedness” and that he would not offer an apology for the tweets “that expressed what was and continues to be my bona fide belief”.
On August 14, a three-judge bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra found two tweets by Bhushan amounting to “serious contempt of court” and delivered a judgment declaring him guilty of criminal contempt. The court today granted Bhushan time till August 24 to Bhushan to reconsider his ‘defiant statement’ refusing to apologise for his contemptuous tweets and tender an unconditional apology.
Appearing before the bench, also comprising Justices B R Gavai and Krishna Murari, Bhushan said his tweets were nothing but a small attempt to discharge what he considered to be his “highest duty at this juncture in the history of our republic”.
“I did not tweet in a fit of absence mindedness. It would be insincere and contemptuous on my part to offer an apology for the tweets that expressed what was and continues to be my bona fide belief. Therefore, I can only humbly paraphrase what the father of the nation Mahatma Gandhi had said in his trial: I do not ask for mercy. I do not appeal to magnanimity,” news agency PTI quoted Bhushan’s statement to the court.
“I am here, therefore, to cheerfully submit to any penalty that can lawfully be inflicted upon me for what the Court has determined to be an offence, and what appears to me to be the highest duty of a citizen,” he said.
Bhushan, accompanied by senior lawyers Rajeev Dhavan and Dushyant Dave representing him, said he has gone through the August 14 judgment and was pained that he has been held guilty of committing contempt of the Court “whose majesty I have tried to uphold — not as a courtier or cheerleader but as a humble guard – for over three decades, at some personal and professional cost”.
“I am pained, not because I may be punished, but because I have been grossly misunderstood,” he said. “I am shocked that the court holds me guilty of “malicious, scurrilous, calculated attack” on the institution of administration of justice. I am dismayed that the Court has arrived at this conclusion without providing any evidence of my motives to launch such an attack,” he added.
Bhushan said he has been disappointed that the court did not find it necessary to serve him with a copy of the complaint on the basis of which the suo motu (on its own) notice was issued, nor found it necessary to respond to the specific averments made by him in his reply affidavit or the many submissions of his counsel.
“I find it hard to believe that the Court finds my tweet “has the effect of destabilizing the very foundation of this important pillar of Indian democracy”. I can only reiterate that these two tweets represented my bonafide beliefs, the expression of which must be permissible in any democracy,” he said.
Bhushan said that public scrutiny is desirable for the healthy functioning of the judiciary itself and he believes that open criticism of any institution is necessary in a democracy, to safeguard the constitutional order.
“We are living through that moment in our history when higher principles must trump routine obligations, when saving the constitutional order must come before personal and professional niceties, when considerations of the present must not come in the way of discharging our responsibility towards the future.
“Failing to speak up would have been a dereliction of duty, especially for an officer of the court like myself,” he said.
The court also rejected Bhushan’s submission that another bench should be hearing the arguments on the quantum of punishment in the contempt case. The bench assured him that it will be “fair” to him and the punishment will not be enforced till his review plea against the conviction is decided.
“In the event we decide to impose any kind of punishment, we assure you that it would not be in operation till the review is decided. Don’t worry, we will be fair to you, even if you are not fair to us,” the SC bench said.
Bhushan faces simple imprisonment of up to six months or with a fine of up to Rs 2,000 or with both as punishment.
The top court had analysed the two tweets of Bhushan posted on micro-blogging site Twitter on June 27 on the functioning of judiciary in past six years, and on July 22 with regard to Chief Justice of India S A Bobde. “In our considered view, it cannot be said that the tweets can be said to be a fair criticism of the functioning of the judiciary, made bona fide in the public interest,” it had said.
(With PTI inputs)
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