Case Against Prashant Bhushan for Tweets. Is Criticism of Judges Now Contempt of Court?

Social Commentary

Case Against Prashant Bhushan for Tweets. Is Criticism of Judges Now Contempt of Court?

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

Suo moto contempt proceedings have been initiated by the Supreme Court (SC) of India against prominent lawyer Prashant Bhushan and Twitter India. The court took cognisance of objectionable tweets by Bhushan on the platform that it held in contempt. Twitter India was impleaded in the case as it provided the platform for Bhushan’s statements. The first hearing in the case was held today, over video-conferencing, and presided over by a three-judge bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra.

Known for being a vocal critic of the ruling establishment, this is not the first contempt case against Bhushan. He has been charged with contempt in 2009 as well, in a case that remains pending to this day. In the new case, two of his tweets dated June 27 and June 29 are under examination. In the first, he said that the SC and the last four Chief Justices of India (CJI) have played a role in “how democracy has been destroyed in India even without a formal Emergency”. In the second, Bhushan responded to a viral photo of current CJI Sharad Arvind Bobde posing on a Harley Davidson by saying he had kept the SC in “lockdown mode” during the migrant worker crisis and denied Indian citizens “their fundamental right to access Justice”.

Many legal experts, politicians, and activists have come to Bhushan’s defence. Yogendra Yadav, a long-term associate of Bhushan’s, claimed the proceedings would not silence the advocate.

Siddharth Varadarajan, an editor of The Wire, saw the SC’s action against Bhushan as an apt time to quote the late Vinod Bobde, an SC counsel and elder brother of the current CJI Sharad Bobde.

Meanwhile, veteran journalist and editor of The Print Shekhar Gupta repeated the principle that legitimate criticism of the court should not be confused with contempt.

However, there were also those who felt the SC’s action was justified. Abhijit Majumder, a journalist, called Bhushan the familiar term of “anti-national”.

Meanwhile, BJP leader Priti Gandhi called Bhushan a “motor mouth repeat offender”.

While the first hearing was held today, and identified the problematic tweets authored by Bhushan that are under examination, the next hearing will be on 5 August.