Prashant Bhushan with social activists Anjali Bhardwaj.   | Photo Credit: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

Truth Fund to provide legal support in fight for free speech

Bhushan case had a “stimulating effect” on free speech: N. Ram.


With hundreds of people wanting to support advocate Prashant Bhushan by symbolically contributing ₹1 — or more — towards his fine in the contempt of court case, a fund has been set up to use the money to help others fighting for free speech.

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“The Satyamev Jayate or Truth Fund will be used to provide legal support and amplify the voices of those facing criminal charges for standing by their conscience and speaking truth,” said activist Anjali Bhardwaj at a webinar organised by Swaraj Abhiyan and the Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reform on freedom of speech and the judiciary on the occasion of Mr. Bhushan’s fine being deposited on Monday.

“Iron hand” of state

Participating in the discussion, retired Supreme Court judge Madan Lokur deplored the “iron hand” being wielded by the state and lack of transparency within the judiciary. The arbitrary use of preventive detention, the increase in sedition charges, the labelling of opinion as “fake news” and the misreading of statements such as Mr. Bhushan’s tweets have all resulted in the curbing of free speech in unconstitutional ways, he said.

Justice Lokur noted that there were 3.4 crore cases pending in district courts and a crisis of vacancies in the judiciary. “The courts need to introspect or our justice system is in danger of complete collapse”, he said.

There is an unequal application of the law, said N. Ram, director, The Hindu Group of Publications, referring to Dr. Kafeel Khan being held in preventive custody for months for giving a speech on unity and integrity of the country, even while others who openly called for violence go scot-free. “The Allahabad High Court’s judgement on his case was a good blow for free speech and democratic rights, but who will make amends for what he has suffered?”, he asked.

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Mr. Ram said he was encouraged by the public response to the contempt of court case against Mr. Bhushan. “We often say that contempt cases have a chilling effect on free speech. Paradoxically, Prashant Bhushan’s case has had a stimulating effect. It has put the Supreme Court under a spotlight, and will put its judgements under intense scrutiny... On the whole, I am optimistic that this has led to an awakening, perhaps even within the judiciary that this has gone too far and that we must come out on the side of freedom of speech”.

Activist Aruna Roy said ordinary citizens had been empowered by Mr. Bhushan’s fight to protect his constitutionally-protected right to free speech. Condemning the recent charges slapped on Sitaram Yechury, Yogendra Yadav, Umar Khalid and others in the Delhi riots case, she observed, “The real intent is to shut these voices down. This intent to spread fear will not work. We will not be silenced. The more people are sent to jail, with that much more courage, we will stand.”