A week after lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan was held guilty of contempt for his two tweets on Chief Justice of India SA Bobde and the Supreme Court, Mr Bhushan today told the top court that he is “pained” that he has been “grossly misunderstood”. The top court this afternoon told the 63-year-old lawyer “to reconsider” his statement as Justice Arun Mishra said: “There is no person on Earth who cannot commit a mistake. A person should be able to realise his make from the core of his heart. I am not someone who would punish anyone just like that.”
The lawyer-activist, who had requested the top court to defer hearing on his sentencing in contempt proceedings against him, earlier told the court: “I am pained to hear that I am held guilty of contempt of court. I am pained not because of the would-be sentencing, but because I am being grossly misunderstood. I believe that an open criticism is necessary to safeguard the democracy and its values.”
As the top court asked him to reconsider his statement, he said: “I may reconsider it if my lordships want but there won’t be any substantial change. I don’t want to waste my lordships’ time. I will consult my lawyer.” Justice Arun Kumar Mishra then replied: “You better reconsider it… don’t just apply legal brain here.”
“My tweets need to be seen as an attempt for working for the betterment of the institution. My tweets were a small attempt to discharge what I consider my highest duty. Apologising would also be dereliction of my duty. I do not ask for mercy. I do not appeal for magnanimity. I cheerfully submit to any punishment that court may impose,” Mr Bhushan told the court during the hearing.
Responding to the lawyer-activist, Justice Arun Mishra said: “There is a Lakshman Rekha (boundary) for everything. Why cross it? We welcome pursuing good cases in public interest but remember, this is now after conviction. And it is a serious thing. I haven’t convicted anyone of contempt in 24 years as a judge. This is my first such order.”
“Freedom of speech is not absolute to anyone, to me, to press. We have to tell everyone that this is the line. There’s no problem in being an activist but we have to say this is the line. Right or wrong, we have now found you guilty,” Justice Mishra added.
“We can assure you that no punishment will be acted upon till your review is decided,” the top court further told him today. However, the court rejected his request that another bench should hear arguments on the quantum of sentence. “You are asking us to commit an act of impropriety that arguments on sentencing should be heard by other bench,” the court said.
In one of the tweets, for which he was held guilty of contempt, Mr Bhushan had said “four previous Chief Justices of India played a role in destroying democracy in India in the last six years”.
The other accused Chief Justice SA Bobde of riding a motorcycle – he was photographed on a Harley Davidson in Nagpur last month – without a helmet and face mask, while keeping the court in lockdown and denying citizens their right to justice.
Mr Bhushan in an affidavit on August 3 had said he regretted only a “part of” what he tweeted and asserted that criticism of the top judge “does not scandalise” the court or lower its authority.
Last week, the court discharged Twitter from contempt for publishing Mr Bhushan’s tweets, saying it accepts the explanation given by the microblogging website.