On August 18, members of the Indian Association of Lawyers, advocates, and human rights activists from Bangalore held a protest at Maurya Circle, against the judgement of the Supreme Court against Prashant Bhushan.
The protest was organized after a call from the Bangalore Advocates Group. Around 70-100 people attended the peaceful demonstration in solidarity with Prashant Bhushan.
According to Sarovar Benkikere, who is associated with the Karnataka Vidyarthi Sangathan (KVS), attendees included members of Dalit Sangharsh Samiti (DSS), KVS, and trans activists, including Mallu Kumbar, State coordinator of the Karnataka Sexual Minorities Forum. Protestors pointed out that the arrest of Prashant Bhushan is an attack on democracy.
Narasimha Murthy, the organiser of the protest pointed out that the verdict has been announced in relation to his tweets, as well as a comment he made in 2009 and questioned why it is being taken up after such a long time. His tweet about the CJI riding a bike which costs 50 lakhs and is owned by a BJP leader during the pandemic was factual and was merely pointing out that the lockdown mode in the SC is denying access to justice to people.
According to Murthy, Bhushan is one of the advocates who has worked and raised his voice for the voiceless, and he is being targeted just like the other advocates who have been targeted and arrested in relation to Bhima Koregaon. That a former CJI has been given a nomination for the Rajya Sabha is unprecedented in the history of India and is a major threat to the independence of the judiciary. “Irrespective of the caste, class, creed, gender, lawyers have the responsibility to oppose such unfair verdicts in every case”, Murthy said. They will plan their next action after the SC announces the punishment.
Prashant Bhushan is a well known Public Interest Lawyer in the Supreme Court of India and an activist. Bhushan had posted two tweets, one about the Supreme Court on June 27 and the second about the Chief Justice of India Sharad Arvind Bobde on June 29. On July 22, the top court had issued a show-cause notice to Bhushan after initiating the suo motu criminal contempt against him for his two tweets.
Replying to the notice Bhushan had filed a detailed affidavit which ran for more than 140-pages and had stated that that expression of bona fide opinion about the Court would not amount to contempt. He had argued that the imperfection of the judiciary warranted criticisms.
Bhushan had argued that his comment on CJI SA Bobde for his photo in which he was seated on a Harley Davidson motorcycle was meant to underline his anguish at the non-physical functioning of the Supreme Court for over three months, “as a result of which fundamental rights of citizens, such as those in detention, those destitute and poor, and others facing serious and urgent grievances were not being addressed or taken up for redressal”.
The first tweet, reproduced in the court, said: “When historians in the future look back at the last six years to see how democracy has been destroyed in India even without a formal Emergency, they will particularly mark the role of the SC in this destruction, and more particularly the role of the last four CJIs.”
The second tweet said: “The CJI rides a Rs 50-lakh motorcycle belonging to a BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] leader at Raj Bhavan, Nagpur, without wearing a mask or helmet, at a time when he keeps the SC on lockdown mode denying citizens their fundamental right to access justice!”
The bench that passed the verdict consisted of Justices Arun Mishra, B.R. Gavai, and Krishna Murari, who said that the tweets were based on distorted facts and amounted to malicious attack against the entire Supreme Court.
Yesterday, more than 1,500 lawyers across the country wrote to the Supreme Court saying that the tweets did not qualify as contempt of court.
The lawyers included Sriram Panchu, Arvind Datar, Shyam Divan, Menaka Guruswamy, Raju Ramachandran, Biswajit Bhattacharya, Navroz Seervai, Janak Dwarkadas, Iqbal Chagla, Darius Khambata, Vrinda Grover, Mihir Desai, Kamini Jaiswal, and Karuna Nundy, and they argued that silencing critique will undermine the independence and strength of the Supreme Court.
While he was tried for criminal contempt for a statement he made in an interview with Tehelka Magazine in 2009, where he had said that half of the previous 16 Chief Justices were corrupt, Bhushan argued that allegations of corruption in the judiciary must fall under the ambit of free speech.