16 prominent civil society members from varying fields of work have filed an intervention application in the suo motu contempt proceedings pending against Prashant Bhushan before the Supreme Court.
The applicants, through Advocate Prasanna S., have stated that expressing opinion about functioning of the constitutional judiciary or any other public institution is a constitutionally guaranteed right. Thus, initiation of contempt proceedings against Bhushan for his tweets criticizing the Judiciary has a 'chilling effect' on the right to exercise freedom of speech and violates the rights enshrined in Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.
They have urged the Top Court to allow debate and discussion regarding its functioning without those expressing their honest opinion fearing "retribution" of criminal contempt.
"The initiation of contempt proceedings against the expression of legitimate concerns in the Alleged Contemnor's tweets, will have a chilling effect on honest critical expression, not just by him but by all members of the general public who have an interest in the country's democracy and the Rule of Law," the application states.
It is pointed out that most functioning democracies such as the USA and the UK have circumscribed the concept of criminal contempt and even the Indian Courts should interpret the provision, Section 2(c) of the Contempt of Courts Act, keeping with the 'march of the law'.
The Applicants include activists Aruna Roy, Anjali Bhardwaj, Nikhil Dey, Dr.Syeda Saiyidain Hameed and Paul Divakar; former civil servants, Deb Mukharji and Wajahat Habibullah; Professors at JNU, Jayati Ghosh and Prabhat Patnaik; ex-Secretary in Ministry of Power and Finance, EAS Sarma; journalist P. Sainat; classical musician TM Krishna; etc.
Last week, a bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra issued notice to Advocate Prashant Bhushan, asking him to show cause as to why contempt of court proceedings should not be initiated against him over his tweets on judiciary.
On Monday, Bhushan responded to the notice stating that bonafide criticism of the manner and the functioning of the Supreme Court, 'however outspoken, undesirable and unpalatable' it is, cannot constitute contempt of court.
'Raising Concerns About The Manner In Which 4 CJIs Have Used Or Failed to Use Their Powers Doesn't Amount To Contempt' : Bhushan's Reply In SC
Earlier, former judges, former senior government officials, ambassadors, activists and academics had also expressed solidarity with Bhushan and they said that initiation of criminal contempt proceedings against him, over his tweets on judiciary amounts to "stifling criticism".
'Initiation Of Contempt Appears To Be An Attempt At Stifling Criticism': Former Judges/ Govt Officials/ Activists Express Solidarity With Prashant Bhushan
"In the past few years, serious questions have been raised about the reluctance of the Supreme Court to play its constitutionally mandated role as a check on governmental excesses and violations of fundamental rights of people by the state…
The initiation of contempt proceedings against Mr. Bhushan who had articulated some of these concerns in his tweets, appears to be an attempt at stifling such criticism, not just by Prashant Bhushan but by all stakeholders in the Indian democratic and constitutional setup. We believe the institution must address these genuine concerns," the statement read.
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