Prashant Bhushan deposits Re 1, files review petition against contempt of court conviction
Senior advocate Prashant Bhushan filed a review petition before the Supreme Court on Monday challenging his conviction by the apex court in criminal contempt of court case. This came hours after he deposited the fine of Re 1 imposed on him by the top court as punishment in the case.
Bhushan maintained that depositing the fine amount does not signify that he agrees with the top court’s verdict.
“I am going to the Supreme Court registry to deposit Re 1 fine imposed on me in relation to the contempt of court case. That I am depositing the fine does not mean I am accepting the judgment. I will be filing a review petition against the judgment today,” Bhushan told media persons outside the Supreme Court on Monday morning.
Later in the day, he filed the review petition. The apex court had, on August 14, held Bhushan guilty of contempt of court for his two tweets, one criticizing the Supreme Court and the other against Chief Justice of India, SA Bobde.
The court then held a separate hearing on the punishment to be handed down to the activist lawyer. During the hearing on sentencing, Bhushan was afforded opportunities by the court to apologise but he refused to do so and stood his ground.
A 3-judge bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra then pronounced its sentence on August 31 and imposed a token fine of Re 1. He was asked to deposit the fine with the registry of the court by September 15 failing which he would have to undergo imprisonment of 3 months and will also be debarred from practising before the Supreme Court for 3 years.
In his review petition, Bhushan challenged the August 14 judgment contending that the judgment suffers from various errors and also renders any criticism of the Supreme Court an offence of criminal contempt.
The review petition said that a detailed reply was filed by Bhushan in defence of his tweets but the court did not take into account the contents of his reply while convicting him. He also questioned the manner in which the court initiated the case and heard him which he contended violated the principles of natural justice since he was not afforded a proper opportunity to present his case.
In this regard, Bhushan highlighted the fact that the court had taken note of his tweets after one Mehek Maheshwari, an advocate, filed a petition before the Supreme Court on July 9 seeking initiation of contempt of court proceedings against Bhushan for the tweets.
“A copy of the petition of Mr Maheswari that was the basis for initiating the suo motu proceedings was not supplied to the review petitioner (Bhushan). It is respectfully submitted that this violation is fundamental and goes to the very root of the matter, as the Review Petitioner could not address before the court whether the basis on which the Court formed its view was substantial or not,” the review petition said.
Importantly, Bhushan submitted that the case should not have been heard by Justice Arun Mishra since he has, on previous occasions, orally accused Bhushan of committing contempt of court when he had merely mentioned that it may be inappropriate for judges to hear cases in which conflict of interest was involved. The petition listed various instances wherein Justice Mishra had heard cases to Bhushan’s detriment.
Bhushan had filed a petition before the Supreme Court on September 12 praying that an additional legal remedy should be provided in those cases where persons are convicted by the Supreme Court in original criminal contempt cases.
Original criminal contempt cases are those which are heard directly by the Supreme Court in the first instance. In such cases, if a person is convicted, he or she is left with no further remedy as the Supreme Court is the highest court in the country.
Bhushan has prayed that in such a case, the convicted person should be afforded the right to an intra-court appeal, i.e. a larger bench of the Supreme Court, different from the bench which convicted the concerned person, should hear an appeal against such conviction.
There is a chance of “arbitrary, vengeful, and high-handed decisions” in such contempt cases where the apex court is not only the aggrieved party but also the “prosecutor, the witness, and the judge,” raising the fear of bias, Bhushan’s plea had said.
Bhushan also told the media on Monday that he received Re 1 from various people across the country expressing their solidarity with him and this was part of a larger campaign called “Rupee one, everyone”. He said that the money collected would be used to set up a fund called “Truth Fund” which will be utilised to fight legal cases for the benefit of those who have been arrested for speaking out against the government.
“Yesterday, Umar Khalid was arrested only for the reason that he is in support of protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act. The government in India today is cracking down on dissenters to silence them. The ‘Truth Fund’ will be utilised to defend such people,” Bhushan said.
Former SC judge expresses concerns over misuse of sedition law
Earlier in the day, retired Supreme Court judge, Justice Madan Lokur spoke in support of Bhushan and decried the use of sedition laws by government machinery at the drop of the hat.
Lokur was speaking at a video conference meeting organized by non-governmental organization, Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms, and socio-political organisation Swaraj Abhiyan, in support of Bhushan.
Lokur said that many citizens who express their opinions and views are slapped with sedition cases while those who call for violence don’t face any state reprimand.
“State is using sedition as an iron hand to curb free speech which I think is an overreaction to people expressing their views. On the other hand, those who call for violence and breaking up things, nothing happens to them,” Lokur said.
He also highlighted an episode from Uttar Pradesh wherein a person whose speech called for unity of citizens was detained by the government on the ground that the speech threatened the integrity of the country.
The incident he was referring to was the detention of Dr Kafeel Khan who was kept in prison under the National Security Act concerning a speech relating to the Citizenship Amendment Act delivered by him at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) on December 12, 2019.
The detention order by District Magistrate said that Khan’s speech of December 12 instigated the students of AMU and there were continuous and violent protests by the students due to which public order in Aligarh was disturbed.
The Allahabad High Court quashed Khan’s detention on September 1 observing that Khan’s speech did not promote hatred or violence, instead it deprecated violence and called for national integrity and unity.
“He was kept under detention for 6 to 7 months because his speech was misinterpreted. Thus, free speech is curbed is by misreading the statements of citizens,” Lokur said.