Prashant Bhushan   | Photo Credit: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

Contempt case: Prashant Bhushan pays ₹1 fine, says review petition being filed

Civil rights lawyer says the payment of the fine does not mean he has accepted the judgment finding him guilty


Civil rights lawyer Prashant Bhushan on Monday paid the ₹1 fine imposed by the Supreme Court as punishment on him for committing criminal contempt with his tweets ‘scandalising the court’.

Speaking to the media outside the Supreme Court complex, Mr. Bhushan said the payment of the fine did not mean he had accepted the judgment finding him guilty. He said a review petition was being filed against the verdict.

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Besides, a writ petition had already been filed in the Supreme Court challenging the lack of an “intra-court appeal” mechanism against a judgment in a suo motu contempt case under Article 129 of the Constitution. Mr. Bhushan has also, in the alternative, asked the court to evolve a system by which a different Bench is set up to hear the review in a contempt case to avoid “conflict of interest”.

Mr. Bhushan has led a spirited defence in the contempt case. He said truth was his defence. He has, as any other citizen, stood by his right to criticise the judiciary. He said the court was using its contempt to “choke dissent”.

He referred to the arrest of former Jawaharlal Nehru University student Umar Khalid booked under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act for his involvement in the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protests. Mr. Bhushan mentioned the naming of activist Yogendra Yadav, economist Jayati Ghosh and academic Apoorvanand in the Delhi riots chargesheet.

‘Stifling free speech’

In a web meeting conducted simultaneously with the occasion, former Supreme Court judge, Justice Madan B. Lokur, said the state was using the sedition law to stifle free speech. The state machinery branded the expression of an uncomfortable opinion by a citizen as “fake news”.

Also Read | Power of contempt of court misused to stifle free speech: Prashant Bhushan

Citizens could face state action not by resorting to violence but by continuing to speak. He referred to how sedition was employed even against freedom fighter Bal Gangadhar Tilak.

“Many citizens expressing their views think they are within the limits of free speech while state thinks the citizens are transgressing the limits,” Justice Lokur said.

‘Punishment incongruous’

Senior journalist N. Ram said the Prashant Bhushan case had instilled a stimulating effect on free speech and expression.

Mr. Ram said though the contempt judgment against Mr. Bhushan was a “fierce” one and contained “strong language, “the punishment (₹1) was certainly incongruous... something very odd. There was no real substantiation for this kind of punishment”.

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He said contempt powers affected the fundamental rights of free speech under Article 19 and that of equality under Article 14 of the Constitution.

He said certain judges believed they had “sky-high powers”. They slipped into absolutism, particularly when dealing with suo motu contempt powers. Such use of the power of contempt had a chilling effect on free speech, Mr. Ram said.

He referred to reports of a Madras High Court judge wanting to initiate action against Tamil actor Suriya for his comments on NEET.

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He said it was time that the “hue and cry factor” was raised louder in this issue.

Activist Aruna Roy agreed with Mr. Ram that the Prashant Bhushan contempt case had stimulated people. Ms. Roy said the ruling against Mr. Bhushan had affected ordinary citizens who worried about their right to free speech.