New Delhi: After the Supreme Court, in its verdict on Monday, held Prashant Bhushan guilty of contempt for his tweets criticising it and the Chief Justice of India SA Bobde, the latter has come forward saying that his intention was never meant to disrespect the top court, which according to him stood as "the last bastion of the justice, especially for the weak and oppressed.”
“I have the greatest respect for the Supreme Court. My tweets were never meant to disrespect the court in any way, but simply to express my anguish in what I thought was a deviation from its sterling record,” Bhushan said during a press conference.
“While I reserve my right to seek a review of the court's conviction and sentencing by way of an appropriate legal remedy, I respectfully pay the fine of Rs 1 that has been imposed,” Bhushan said.
“This is not about me. When the Supreme Court wins, every Indian wins. Obviously, if the court weakens, the very Republic weakens. This is a watershed moment. Truth shall prevail. Long live democracy,” Bhushan added.
Earlier, a bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra had asked Bhushan, whom they found to be in contempt of court, to deposit the fine by September 15, failing which he will attract a jail term of three months and debarment from law practice for three years.
Freedom of speech cannot be curtailed but rights of others need to be respected, said the bench, also comprising Justices B R Gavai and Krishna Murari.
The verdict said not only the bench had persuaded Bhushan to express regret but Attorney General K K Venugopal had also opined that it was in the fitness of thing that the contemnor should express regret.
The bench also noted that the statements of Bhushan submitted in the court were released to the media before they were taken on record.
During an earlier hearing, the bench had orally observed that the sentence, if any, will not be enforced against Bhushan till the decision is taken on his plea seeking review of the judgement convicting him in the contempt case.
On August 14, the apex court had held Bhushan guilty of criminal contempt for his two derogatory tweets against the judiciary and maintained they cannot be said to be a fair criticism of the functioning of the judiciary made in the public interest.
Bhushan in his statement had refused to offer an apology to the Supreme Court for the tweets, saying what he had expressed represented his bona fide belief which he continued to hold.
On August 25, senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan had urged the top court to show "judicial statesmanship" and not make Bhushan a "martyr" by punishing him for contempt over the tweets, after the activist-lawyer rejected fresh suggestions from the court for an apology.
Dhavan, representing Bhushan, had suggested that the top court recall the August 14 verdict convicting the activist lawyer and not to impose any sentence. He urged it to not only close the case but also to bring an end to the controversy.
Justice Mishra is demitting office on September 2.
Attorney General K K Venugopal requested the court to forgive Bhushan with a message that he should not repeat this act.
The bench also comprising Justices B R Gavai and Krishna Murari, had given 30 minutes to Bhushan to "think over" on withdrawing his statements made in the court and said he made "disparaging remarks against the institution and the judges".
Venugopal had said Bhushan, who has been refusing to tender an unconditional apology for the tweets, should withdraw all statements and express regret.
The bench on August 20 had granted time till Monday to Bhushan to reconsider his "defiant statement" and tender "unconditional apology" for the contemptuous tweets.
Referring to Bhushan's statements and his refusal to apologise, the bench had told Venugopal that mistakes were committed by all but they needed to be accepted, but here Bhushan was not willing to accept that.
Dhavan had argued that reprimanding Bhushan like "don't do it again" as suggested by the attorney general will not be correct and instead a statesman-like message should be there like "Mr Bhushan though we disagree with many things, but from next time you should be more responsible".
Bhushan in his statement had refused to offer an apology to the Supreme Court for his two tweets against the judiciary, saying what he expressed represented his bona fide belief which he continued to hold.
Timeline of the contempt case
Following is the chronology of events in which the Supreme Court on Monday imposed a token fine of Re 1 on activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan in a contempt case:
Aug 31: SC imposes fine of Re 1 on Bhushan, to be paid by September 15; default to lead to 3-month-jail term, debarment from practice in the apex court for 3 years. Prashant Bhushan accepts the verdict, agrees to pay the fine.
Aug 25: Attorney General KK Venugopal urges SC to let Bhushan off the hook. SC once again asks Bhushan to apologies. He refuses. SC reserves judgment on Bhushan's sentencing.
Aug 14: SC holds Bhushan guilty of criminal contempt for his both tweets 'against the judiciary'. Bhushan files a response refusing to apologise to the SC while hearing argument of point of quantum of sentence.
Jul 22: SC initiates contempt proceedings against Bhushan after taking note of a complaint filed by a lawyer in this regard; issues notice to him.
Jun 29: Bhushan tweets about Chief Justice S A Bobde trying a Harley Davidson super-bike in his hometown Nagpur during the coronavirus outbreak.
Jun 27: Bhushan tweets about the undeclared emergency in the country and the role of the Supreme Court and last four chief justices of India.