Former judges, former senior government officials, ambassadors, activists and academics have issued a statement in solidarity with Advocate Prashant Bhushan on initiation of Criminal Contempt Proceedings against him.
The statement asserts that initiation of contempt proceedings against Mr. Bhushan, who raised his voice against several issues surrounding the Supreme Court's functioning, appears to be an attempt at "stifling criticism".
"An institution as important as the Supreme Court of a country must be open to public discussion without the fear of retribution or action of criminal contempt," they have asserted.
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.
Expressing concern over the initiation of contempt, 131 signatories to the Statement said,
"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. These questions have been raised by all sections of society- media, academics, civil society organisations, members of the legal fraternity and even by sitting and retired judges of the Supreme Court itself. Most recently, the Supreme Court's reluctance to intervene in a timely manner to avert the migrant crisis during the lockdown came under intense public scrutiny. Concerns have also been raised regarding the decision of the court to not restart physical hearings, even in a limited manner, despite passage of five months since the onset of the COVID pandemic.
We urge the Hon'ble judges of the Supreme Court to take note of these concerns and engage with the public in an open and transparent manner. 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 points out that most functioning democracies such as the USA and the UK have circumscribed the concept of criminal contempt. Even in India, they said, the principle that criticism of the judiciary should not be stifled by the "indiscriminate use of the power of contempt" has been recognized by the Supreme Court.
Therefore, in the interest of justice and fairness and to maintain the dignity of the Supreme Court, the signatories have urged the Court to reconsider its decision on initiation of suo-moto contempt proceedings against Mr. Bhushan and to withdraw the same at the earliest.
The criminal proceedings emanate from Mr. Bhushan's tweet dated June 27 which said,
"When historians in future look back at the last 6 years to see how democracy has been destroyed in India even without a formal Emergency, they will particularly mark the role of the Supreme Court in this destruction, & more particularly the role of the last 4 CJIs"
The Top Court had said received a complaint from an advocate about a tweet made by him on June 29 commenting on Chief Justice of India SA Bobde riding a Harley Davidson motor bike.
Recently, Twitter withheld both the tweets and they were concealed with a message "This tweet from @pbhushan1 has been withheld in India in response to a legal demand."
Signatories to the statement include former judge of the Supreme Court, Justice Madan B. Lokur; former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court, Justice AP Shah; Senior Advocate Sudhir Nandrajog, Senior Advocates Indira Jaising, C U Singh, Sanjay Hegde, Gopal Shankaranarayanan, Anand Grover, Amir Singh Chadha, Mihir Desai; Advocate Vrinda Grover; former Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Ramdas; Social activist Anjali Bhardwaj, JNU Professor Deepak Nayyar, political activist Yogendra Yadav, Rajya Sabha MP Manoj Kumar Jha, former Rajya Sabha MP D Raja etc.