Activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan told the Supreme Court on Thursday that he did not tweet in “absence mindedness” and it would be insincere and contemptuous on his part to offer an apology for the tweets that expressed what was and continues to be his bona fide belief.
The top court on August 14 had held Bhushan guilty of criminal contempt for his derogatory tweets against the judiciary saying they cannot be said to be a fair criticism of the functioning of the judiciary made in the public interest.
A bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra was told by Bhushan, who himself addressed the court along with senior lawyers Rajeev Dhavan and Dushyant Dave representing him, that his tweets were nothing but a small attempt to discharge what he considered to be his highest duty at this juncture in the history of our republic.
“I did not tweet in a fit of absence mindedness. It would be insincere and contemptuous on my part to offer an apology for the tweets that expressed what was and continues to be my bona fide belief. Therefore, I can only humbly paraphrase what the father of the nation Mahatma Gandhi had said in his trial: I do not ask for mercy. I do not appeal to magnanimity," Bhushan said in his statement to the court.
"I am here, therefore, to cheerfully submit to any penalty that can lawfully be inflicted upon me for what the Court has determined to be an offence, and what appears to me to be the highest duty of a citizen,” he said.
Bhushan told the bench, also comprising Justices B R Gavai and Krishna Murari, that he has gone through the August 14 judgment of the Court and was pained that he has been held guilty of committing contempt of the Court whose majesty he has tried to uphold -- not as a courtier or cheerleader but as a humble guard - for over three decades, at some personal and professional cost.
“I am pained, not because I may be punished, but because I have been grossly misunderstood,” he said.
The activist-lawyer said, “I am shocked that the court holds me guilty of “malicious, scurrilous, calculated attack” on the institution of administration of justice. I am dismayed that the Court has arrived at this conclusion without providing any evidence of my motives to launch such an attack”.
Bhushan said he must confess he has been disappointed that the court did not find it necessary to serve him with a copy of the complaint on the basis of which the suo motu (on its own) notice was issued, nor found it necessary to respond to the specific averments made by him in his reply affidavit or the many submissions of his counsel.
“I find it hard to believe that the Court finds my tweet “has the effect of destabilizing the very foundation of this important pillar of Indian democracy”. I can only reiterate that these two tweets represented my bonafide beliefs, the expression of which must be permissible in any democracy,” he said.
Bhushan said that public scrutiny is desirable for the healthy functioning of the judiciary itself and he believes that open criticism of any institution is necessary in a democracy, to safeguard the constitutional order.
“We are living through that moment in our history when higher principles must trump routine obligations, when saving the constitutional order must come before personal and professional niceties, when considerations of the present must not come in the way of discharging our responsibility towards the future.
"Failing to speak up would have been a dereliction of duty, especially for an officer of the court like myself,” he said.
During the hearing, the bench said it is rejecting Bhushan’s submissions that the arguments on quantum of sentence in the contempt proceedings in which he has been held guilty be heard by another top court bench.
The bench also said that it was not inclined to entertain the application filed by Bhushan on Wednesday for deferment of hearing on the quantum of sentence in the contempt case against him.
On August 14, the top court in its 108-page verdict in the suo motu contempt case, had said: “The tweets which are based on the distorted facts, in our considered view, amount to committing criminal contempt”.
“In the result, we hold alleged contemnor No.1 - Mr. Prashant Bhushan guilty of having committed criminal contempt of this Court” it had said.
The top court had, however, discharged the notice issued to Twitter Inc, California, USA in the contempt case after accepting its explanation that it is only an intermediary and does not have any control on what the users post on the platform.
It had said the company has also shown its bona fides immediately after the cognizance was taken by this Court as it has suspended both the tweets.
The top court had analysed the two tweets of Bhushan posted on the micro-blogging site on June 27 on the functioning of judiciary in past six years, and on July 22 with regard to Chief Justice of India S A Bobde.
"In our considered view, it cannot be said that the tweets can be said to be a fair criticism of the functioning of the judiciary, made bona fide in the public interest," it had said.