Prashant Bhushan
Prashant Bhushan

Does not mean I accept the judgment: Prashant Bhushan while depositing draft for Re 1 fine imposed for Contempt of Court

A virtual discussion on Freedom of speech and Judiciary with addresses by Justice (retd.) Madan Lokur, N Ram, Aruna Roy and Prof Anand Kumar was also conducted while Bhushan addressed a live presser outside the SC.

Meera Emmanuel

After the Supreme Court imposed a Re 1 fine as penalty for contempt of court over tweets criticising the judiciary, Advocate Prashant Bhushan today deposited a draft bearing the fine at the Supreme Court.

In a live presser held outside the Supreme Court premises, Bhushan also told the press that the deposit of this fine should not be viewed his acceptance of the Judgment against him.

He commented,

"This is not to say that I accept the Judgment. We are filing a review petition. Two days earlier I have filed a writ petition for the right of an appeal in the criminal conviction before a larger bench."

The presser outside Court also saw certain people gathered in support of Bhushan, including a villager from Rajasthan who told the media that he supports Bhushan from whom he has recieved a lot of help.

The presser was live streamed along side a virtual discussion on Freedom of speech and Judiciary, which featured brief addresses by former Supreme Court Judge, Justice (retd.) Madan Lokur, Senior Journalist N Ram, Social Activist Aruna Roy and convenor of the Swaraj Abhiyan, Professor Anand Kumar.

Justice (retd.) Lokur expressed general concerns regarding the curtailing of free speech in recent times through various means. He, however, refrained from commenting on the Prashant Bhushan contempt case since a review petition is being filed against it. Justice (retd.)

Lokur opined that in any case, he does not have anything to add to the defence already made by Bhushan, which Lokur remarked covered everything that needed to be said.

N Ram, Chairman of the Hindu group, remarked that while the contempt judgment against Prashant Bhushan was fearsome in its tenor while dealing with the "heinous offences" that Bhushan has been charged for, it was also incongruous when the Court finally came to the question of penalty i.e. the Re 1 fine.

Notably, Ram expressed that the Prashant Bhushan judgment has had a paradoxical result in the sense that instead of culminating in a chilling effect on free speech, the judgment has had a stimulating effect.

The Supreme Court is in the limelight as a consequence, he pointed out adding that several articles have been written critically analysing the Supreme Court and judgment thereafter.

In the course of his talk, Ram also referred to the letter penned yesterday by a Madras High Court judge who has viewed Actor Surya's recent remarks on the conduct of NEET as criminal contempt.

"What did Surya actually say? He commented that while judges themselves are holding proceedings via Video Conferencing, students are being asked to write NEET without fear", Ram observed.

As far as the Supreme Court's judgment against Bhushan was concerned, Ram voiced concern that it gives the lay person an impression that the Supreme Court has sky-high powers.

"It is a kind of absolutism. Certain portions of this judgment, at least to lay reading, give the impression that the Supreme Court is claiming sky-high powers. This, I think, has to be challenged", Ram opined.

He, however, went on to express that,

"On the whole, I am optimistic that this (the Prashant Bhushan case) has led to an awakening, perhaps even within the judiciary that this has gone too far and that we must come out in the side of freedom of speech."

"The 1 rupee (fine) is not just a symbol. These are small things but assume great significance with mass mobilisation. Even the Dandi march began with salt", said Aruna Roy at the discussion.

While condemning the Delhi Police's recent accusations against Sitaram Yerchury, Umar Khalid and others in the Delhi Riots cases in view of their speeches against the Citizenship Amendment Act, Roy said that the intent is to curtail voices that speak up against injustice.

"What is the intent behind this? The real intent is to shut those voices up and (to shut) the amplification of these voices."

While expressing her support of Prashant Bhushan, Roy added,

"We will not be silenced. This a message I want to send out clearly. Why would we stay silent? Have we done anything wrong? We will fight against injustice, whoever it is who does wrong... This intent to spread fear will not work. We are empowered by the Constitution. We stand with Prashant. The more people are sent to jail, with that much more courage, we will stand."

Professor Anand Kumar, National Convenor of the Swaraj Abhiyan which co-hosted the discussion along with the Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms (CJAR), of which Bhushan is a part, also expressed his solidarity with Bhushan.

As the discussion drew to a close, Anjali Bharadwaj also informed the audience of a "Satyameva Jayate" or "Truth" fund that has been created in the wake of the Prashant Bhushan Judgment, which any citizen can join by contributing Re 1.

People can contribute more if they wish to, she added. The fund is intended to aid others who may also require it in their peaceful fight against injustice, it was stated. Guidelines for its use will be laid down by eminent persons, she said.

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