The Supreme Court on 31 August imposed a token fine of Re 1 on activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan for criminal contempt of court for his tweets against the apex court and Chief Justice of India (CJI) SA Bobde.
A three-judge bench said that if Bhushan failed to deposit the amount by 15 September, he will have to undergo simple imprisonment for three months and will be barred from practising for three years.
The court had on 14 August held Bhushan guilty of criminal contempt of court and stated that the allegations levelled in the tweets against the court and CJI are malicious in nature and have the tendency to scandalise the court.
Bhushan’s tweets were based on distorted facts and have the effect of destabilising the foundation of the judiciary, the court had added.
Though the court gave him time to “think over”, Bhushan maintained that he will not apologise and in a statement on 24 August said that the views expressed by him through his tweets represented his bona fide (good faith) beliefs and, therefore, an apology for expressing such beliefs would be insincere.
“An apology cannot be a mere incantation and any apology has to be sincerely made. If I retract a statement before this court that I otherwise believe to be true or offer an insincere apology, that in my eyes would amount to the contempt of my conscience and of an institution that I hold in highest esteem,” he said.
Attorney-General KK Venugopal had urged the court to not punish Bhushan and let him off with a warning. The court refused to do so unless he tendered an apology.
Bhushan had on 27 June tweeted that historians would mark the role of the Supreme Court in contributing to what he considered as the destruction of democracy. “When historians in the future look back at the last six years to see how democracy has been destroyed in India even without a formal Emergency, they will particularly mark the role of the SC in this destruction, and more particularly the role of the last four CJIs”, he wrote on Twitter.
In another tweet on 29 June, the leftist-anarchist member of the bar had posted a photo of CJI Bobde sitting on a Harley Davidson motorcycle with the text alongside reading: “The CJI rides a Rs 50-lakh motorcycle belonging to a BJP leader at Raj Bhavan, Nagpur, without wearing a mask or helmet, at a time when he keeps the SC on lockdown mode denying citizens their fundamental right to access justice!”