Another nail in coffin of freedom of expression in India

Contempt for SC verdict over Prashant Bhushan contempt case


August 18, 2020

/ By / New Delhi

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Over 1,500 lawyers from across the country and senior members of the Bar Association of India urged the top court to take corrective steps to prevent ‘miscarriage of justice’

Supreme Court’s Friday ruling holding noted lawyer Prashant Bhushan guilty of criminal contempt of court has been roundly criticised by lawyers, former judges, retired bureaucrats and the media as an attack on freedom of expression by the guardians of the Constitution.

“Supreme Court is not an ordinary entity. It is the protector and watchdog of the Constitution in our country. Saying that two tweets have shaken the foundation of justice shows how scared the Supreme Court has become. It will discourage not just the lawyers but also the common people of India at a time when voices of dissent are already under threat,” says an Advocate of Delhi High Court.

On Friday, Supreme Court advocate and human rights lawyer Prashant Bhushan was found guilty of criminal contempt of court over his tweets about Chief Justice of India and lack of faith in the Supreme Court proceedings and its role in protecting the fundamental rights of the citizens.

Supreme Court bench of Justices Arun Mishra, B.R. Gavai and Krishna Murari found lawyer Prashant Bhushan guilty of contempt of court for two tweets which it said had shaken the ‘very foundation of constitutional democracy’. The order has since come in for criticism and ridicule as most termed the judgment as flawed and the thin skin of judiciary. Soon after the verdict was declared, support for Bhushan came from various quarters including the Bar Council of India, former Supreme Court judges, human right activists and political leaders.

Over 1,500 lawyers from across the country and senior members of the Bar Association of India urged the top court to take corrective steps to prevent ‘miscarriage of justice’. “The Association is of the view that the exercise of contempt jurisdiction by the Court in this manner has potential for more self-harm than the avowed purpose of safeguarding the prestige of the institution,’’ the Bar Association said in a letter to the judges.

The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative India executive board, which is headed by former Chief  Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah, also expressed concern over the judgment. “The ruling sent a chilling message and were a sign of the current deterioration in the state of free speech in the country,” says CHRI.

Historians Ramachandra Guha and Irfan Habib also condemned the judgement against Bhushan. Guha, in his tweet, called August 14, a ‘dark day for democracy.’ Questions have also been raised about the issue of freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by the Indian Constitution under Article 19 (1)(a).

“If the Supreme Court continues to give verdicts against people who criticise its functioning and nature, it will end up curbing the most basic and important of all fundamental rights, right to freedom of speech and expression,” the advocate from Delhi High Court sums up.

Unperturbed by the all-round criticism, the top court will meet on August 20 to decide on the quantum of punishment for Bhushan.



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