India’s Supreme Court Monday imposed a token fine of Re 1 on eminent lawyer/activist Prashant Bhushan, convicted in a contempt of court case for tweets against the judiciary.
If Bhushan fails to deposit the fine by September 15, he will have to serve three months in jail and the senior advocate will be barred from practicing law for three years.
A Supreme Court bench comprising Justices Arun Mishra, BR Gavai and Krishna Murari had reserved the order on the sentence August 25, after Bhushan declined to apologize for his tweets.
In one of his tweets, Bhushan had criticized current Chief Justice of India SA Bobde. In another, the activist-lawyer had accused the last few CJIs of enabling democracy being destroyed.
The case has come to be seen as test of freedom of expression in India.
Pronouncing the judgment, the bench said freedom of expression is there, but rights of others should also be respected, and the conduct of the contemnor also needs to be taken into consideration.
The bench observed that Bhushan gave wide publicity to the supplementary statement submitted in the court, where he refused to express regret for the tweets against the judiciary.
The bench said this statement was released in advance to the press and it seemed to influence the independent judicial function.
The bench noted that the attorney general had also initiated contempt against Bhushan, however, it was withdrawn after Bhushan expressed regret.
Imposing the token fine, the bench said if Bhushan defaults then he will be barred from practice for three years and would have to undergo imprisonment of three months.
During the arguments, the bench referring to Bhushan’s refusal to apologize for his tweets had said: “What is wrong in apologizing? Is this word so bad? During the hearing the bench also gave 30 minutes to Bhushan to think over his stand for not expressing regret in connection with the tweets.”