SC Gives Prashant Bhushan Protection From Arrest for Ramayan Tweet

Bhushan has approached court for quashing an FIR in Gujarat over his tweets about Ramayana and Mahabharata reruns.

Updated
Law
2 min read
File photo of advocate Prashant Bhushan at the Supreme Court.
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The Supreme Court on Friday, 1 May, issued notice on a plea filed by advocate Prashant Bhushan, who has asked for quashing of an FIR registered against him in Gujarat for a tweet.

Bhushan had referenced Karl Marx's quote about religion being the opium of the masses in a tweet (see below) about the reruns of the Ramayana and Mahabharata TV serials on Doordarshan, during the coronavirus lockdown.

The tweet was posted in response to one by Information and Broadcasting minister Prakash Javadekar of him watching the shows.

Retired army personnel Jaydev Joshi filed a complaint about Bhushan's tweet, for allegedly "hurting Hindu religious sentiments".

Bhushan had approached the apex court for a quashing of the FIR against him in a petition filed on Thursday, 30 April. The FIR was registered under Sections 295A (outraging religious feelings/insulting a religion) and 505 (public mischief by disturbing public tranquility) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

While Section 295A is with reference to Bhushan’s Ramayana/Mahabharata tweet, the Section 505(1) charge relates to his retweeting of tweets by ex-IAS officer Kannan Gopinathan and National Herald journalist Ashlin Mathews, in which they criticised certain actions of the central government to deal with the coronavirus crisis.

Bhushan has argued that neither of these charges is made out, and that the FIR is an abuse of process and violates his right to free speech.

“The FIR belatedly registered after almost 15 days is nothing but an attempt to curb criticism of government policies/actions and is malafide, vexatious, malicious, frivolous, and an abuse of the process of law and violative of right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) and the ingredients of the offences are not even prima facie made out.”
Prashant Bhushan’s petition to the Supreme Court for quashing of the FIR

The bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan and Sanjiv Khanna questioned how people could be told they cannot watch something, to which Bhushan's lawyer, senior advocate Dushyant Dave, said that wasn't at issue here, and that the question was whether an FIR could be registered based on the tweet.

The judges told the state of Gujarat to file a response to the petition within two weeks, after which the case will be listed again for arguments on whether the FIR should be quashed.

The judges also ordered that no coercive action can be taken against Bhushan till the date of the next hearing – which means Bhushan cannot be arrested in the case till then, at least.

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