Verdict against  Prashant Bhushan an assault on  freedom of speech : Citizens for Democracy (CFD)

Human Rights India

By Special Correspondent

New Delhi:  Citizens for Democracy (CFD), a prominent forum of concerned Indians, on Tuesday urged the Supreme Court to recall its contempt verdict against well-known lawyer Prashant Bhushan. It termed the judgment of the Supreme Court as “an assault on the freedom of speech”.

In a  statement, released by CFD general secretary  and advocate , ND Pancholi,  CFD said  itt is a matter of grave concern that the Court  has held Bhushan guilty  of  contempt  of court on account of his two tweets.

It underlined that “The tweets made by Prashant Bhushan were expression of anguish felt by thousands of victimized citizens who are at the receiving end of the brutal state power and who cry and hope for judicial protection.”

The statement said the court has no time to take serious matters concerning with the people lives and their livelihood the abrogation of articles ‘370’ and ‘35-A’.

“At present serious issues of public importance such as challenge to  ‘CAA-2019’,  the abrogation of articles ‘370’ and ‘35-A’ of the Constitution, several ‘habeas corpus’ petitions etc. are pending in the Supreme Court.”

It is unfortunate that the Supreme Court took umbrage when Prashant Bhushan tried to link the present functioning of the Supreme Court to the ‘emergency like’ situation. The tweets ought to have been ignored, it added.

Supreme Court held that the tweets  has the effect of destabilising the very foundation of this important pillar of the Indian democracy and it has to be dealt with iron hand. It further said that it  took umbrage at Bhushan linking the Supreme Court to an ‘Emergency-like situation’ and thus held his tweets false, malicious and scandalous.

CFD pointed out that  the Supreme Court seems to be unaware that it is not only Prashant Bhushan who is linking the functioning of the present Supreme Court to an ‘emergency’- like situation but large number of people are making this comparison.

During the said ‘emergency’ (June 1975-March 1977) the fundamental rights of the citizens were suspended  and those who criticized the moves of the government were sent to jail under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act,1971 (MISA). At present large number of citizens who criticize the government are being arrested on one pretext or the other without formal declaration of ‘emergency’. Though such arrests are not on the same scale as that of emergency, but the methodology and arbitrariness is the same and authoritarian trends are clearly visible. Most of them are unable to get any relief from the courts as happened in the ‘emergency’. Habeas corpus petitions of Kashmiri citizens are pending undecided in the Supreme Court for a year.

During emergency large number of detainees had filed habeas corpus petitions in different High courts on the ground that their detention was malafide.  This contention was upheld by seven High courts but the Government  challenged  the said decisions  before the Supreme Court which  with majority of four to one   reversed the orders of the High Courts on 28th April 1976, what has come to be known as ADM Jabalpur Versus Shukla case (AIR 1976 SC 1207)  holding that  if the executive violates the rule of law and deprives any  person of life or personal liberty by a grossly malafide action, neither the aggrieved party nor the judiciary can do anything in the matter.

It recalled that Justice V.M. Tarkunde (Retd.), the then General Secretary of the Citizens For Democracy (CFD), immediately wrote an article ‘JUDICIAL SUICIDE’,  published in the June 1976 issue of  ‘The Radical Humanist’, stating that the day 28th April 1976  would become known  as the blackest day  in the judicial history of India. He further wrote : ’Since maintenance of the rule of law  is the sole function of the judiciary, a declaration by the Supreme Court of its inability to discharge that function in the critical area of executive encroachment on personal liberty can legitimately be described as little short of judicial suicide.” The copies of that issue were sent to each judge of the Supreme Court and to all the Chief Justices of the High Courts.

That judgment in ADM Jabalpur case  had angered large number of people. When the emergency was revoked, some advocates had issued statements while Bar Association of Bombay High Court had passed a resolution declaring that that the four judges who delivered the majority judgment were ‘cowards’. These statements were published in some newspapers.

The said four judges were still sitting judges in the Supreme Court. A contempt of court petition was filed. The majority of two judges (Untwala and Kailasam J.J.) disposed of the matter observing:”This is not a fit case where formal proceeding should be drawn up.” Chief Justice Beg who was one of the four judges in the ADM Jabalpur case and was of the opinion that a case of contempt had been made out also signed the majority judgment stating,“ However, as two of my learned brethren are of the view that we should ignore even such news items and not proceed further, I can do no more than to state the reasons for my dissent before signing a common order dropping these proceedings.”. (AIR 1978 SC 489 : Shri Sham Lal Vs. Unknown). Same approach was shown by the other benches of the Supreme Court relating to such statements.

It also underlined that the then judges exhibited a dignified approach in ignoring the said contemptuous statements calling the sitting judges as ‘cowards’. The  judgment in ADM Jabalpur case has been regarded as the most shameful one in the judicial history of India and has recently been over-ruled.

CFD said holding Bhushan guilty and awarding him any punishment is not going to do any service to the administration of justice or enhance the majesty of law.

“We hope and pray that the Supreme Court will continue to play its assigned role with fearlessness, fairness and objectivity. We urge upon the Hon’ble Court to ignore the tweets and recall its decision holding Prashant Bhushan guilty”.

The statement was signed by President CFD S.R.Hiremath,    N.D.Pancholi,  Anil Sinha,   Manimala, Arun Maji , Ramendra Nath,  Ramsharan,  Shalu Nigam, Ramesh Awasthi, and Mahipal  Singh,.


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