The Supreme Court on Wednesday, 22 July issued notice in a contempt case against lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan and Twitter, in connection with two tweets posted by Bhushan in June.
They are to provide their responses as to why they have not committed contempt of court before the next date of hearing, which is 5 August.
The bench of Justices Arun Mishra, BR Gavai and Krishna Murari had taken up the case suo motu, they said, with regard to the comments made by Bhushan in those tweets against the Chief Justice of India, SA Bobde. They have stated in their order that:
“We are, prima facie, of the view that the aforesaid statements on Twitter have brought the administration of justice in disrepute and are capable of undermining the dignity and authority of the Institution of Supreme Court in general and the office of the Chief Justice of India in particular, in the eyes of public at large.”
The judges have also issued notice to Attorney General KK Venugopal, and have asked him to assist them in the matter.
The Offending Tweets
The judges have said the contempt case relates to the following tweets by Bhushan on his Twitter handle:
- On 27 June, he wrote: “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”.
- On 29 June, he shared an image of CJI Bobde sitting on a Harley Davidson superbike, commenting that the CJI was sitting on a bike belonging to a BJP leader, at a time when the Supreme Court was “denying citizens their fundamental right to access Justice” because it was in lockdown mode.
Senior advocate Sajan Poovayya, appearing for Twitter India which had been listed as a respondent, informed the court that the main parent company, Twitter Inc, was the entity which controls Twitter and hence notice needed to be issued to them, not Twitter India. The judges accepted his submission.
Poovayya informed the court that Twitter did not defend or endorse the tweets and were willing to take action to disable them at this time.
Other Contempt Case to Come Up on 24 July
In addition to this contempt case, the same bench is also slated to hear another old contempt case against Bhushan on 24 July.
The court, however, had not initiated the proceedings for the case being heard on Friday by themselves. It was filed in 2009 on a complaint by senior advocate Harish Salve, who was back then appearing as an amicus curiae in a PIL before the SC.
Salve informed the court of an interview given by Bhushan to Tehelka. In the interview, Bhushan had made allegations of corruption against judges of the apex court.
A Supreme Court order from the time describes the allegations as follows:
“The learned Amicus Curiae drew the attention of the Court to certain statements which had been made by the Respondent No.1 in an interview given to Ms. Shoma Chaudhury, wherein various statements were made alleging corruption in the judiciary and, in particular, the higher judiciary, without any material in support thereof. In the interview he went on to say that although he did not have any proof for his allegations, half of the last 16 Chief Justices were corrupt. He also made a serious imputation against the Hon’ble the Chief Justice of India, Justice SH Kapadia, as His Lordship then was, alleging misdemeanor with regard to the hearing of a matter involving a company known as Sterlite, in which Justice Kapadia had certain shares, deliberately omitting to mention that the said fact had been made known to the counsel appearing in the matter, who had categorically stated that they had no objection whatsoever to the matter being heard by His Lordship.”
Bhushan, represented by famous lawyer Ram Jethmalani at that time, had tried to object to the maintainability of the case, saying his statements did not amount to contempt of court. The apex court had rejected these arguments and said the contempt case should proceed. However, it has not been listed for substantive arguments since 2010.