- Lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan was held guilty of contempt last week
- Today, he said he was "pained" at being "grossly misunderstood"
- "Apologising would also be dereliction of my duty," he told the court
Lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan, held guilty of contempt for his tweets on Chief Justice of India SA Bobde and the Supreme Court, told the top court today that he was "pained" at being "grossly misunderstood" and that he considered his tweets an attempt to discharge his highest duty. After a sharp back-and-forth during a two-hour hearing over whether his tweets had crossed the line, the Supreme Court gave the 63-year-old lawyer two-three days "to reconsider" his statement and sought an unconditional apology by August 24.
"We have given time to the contemnor to submit unconditional apology, if he so desires. Let it be filed by 24.08.2020. In case, apology is submitted, the case to be posted for consideration on the same, on 25.08.2020," the Supreme Court said.
"There is no person on Earth who cannot commit a mistake. You may do hundreds good things but that doesn't give you a license to do 10 crimes. Whatever has been done is done. But we want the person concerned to have a sense of remorse," said Justice Arun Mishra.
Prashant Bhushan's request to defer the hearing on his sentencing for contempt was rejected by the Supreme Court. "I am pained to hear that I am held guilty of contempt of court. I am pained not because of the would-be sentencing, but because I am being grossly misunderstood. I believe that an open criticism is necessary to safeguard the democracy and its values," he said.
"My tweets need to be seen as an attempt for working for the betterment of the institution. My tweets, I consider, was discharge of my highest duty. Apologising would also be dereliction of my duty. I do not ask for mercy. I do not appeal for magnanimity. I cheerfully submit to any punishment that court may impose," he said.
As the top court asked him to reconsider his statement, he said: "I may reconsider it if my lordships want but there won't be any substantial change. I don't want to waste my lordships' time. I will consult my lawyer." Justice Arun Kumar Mishra then replied: "You better reconsider it... don't just apply legal brain here."
Justice Mishra said this was his first such contempt ruling. "There is a Lakshman Rekha (boundary) for everything. Why cross it? We welcome pursuing good cases in public interest but remember, this is a serious thing. I haven't convicted anyone of contempt in 24 years as a judge. This is my first such order," he said.
The judge noted: "Freedom of speech is not absolute to anyone... to me... to Press. There's no problem in being an activist but we have to say this is the line."
The court said "no punishment will be acted upon" until a decision on review. However, Mr Bhushan's request that another bench hear arguments on sentencing was rejected. "You are asking us to commit an act of impropriety that arguments on sentencing should be heard by other bench," the court said.
In one of the tweets for which he was held guilty of contempt last week, Mr Bhushan had said "four previous Chief Justices of India played a role in destroying democracy in India in the last six years".
The other accused Chief Justice SA Bobde of riding a motorcycle - he was photographed on a Harley Davidson in Nagpur last month - without a helmet and face mask, while keeping the court in lockdown and denying citizens their right to justice.
Mr Bhushan told the court on August 3 that he regretted only a "part of" what he tweeted and asserted that criticism of the top judge "does not scandalise" the court or lower its authority.