More than 3,000 people, including 12 former judges, have signed a statement extending their support to human rights lawyer Prashant Bhushan.
The Supreme Court of India has found him guilty of contempt of court for his tweets against the Chief Justice of India (CJI) and the Indian judiciary.
A three-judge bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra said Bhushan was found to have committed “serious” contempt, and the hearing for punishment in the case will be held on August 20. According to reports, the punishment for contempt of court can go up to six months in jail, or fine, or both.
Bhushan had tweeted about the impropriety of the present CJI when he was riding an expensive motorcycle that belonged to a BJP leader in Nagpur.
He had also tweeted about the “undeclared emergency” in India and suggested that the Supreme Court had a role in ensuring its continuation.
According to The Wire news site, the signatories said in their statement that the tweets were a bona fide expression of concern regarding the functioning of the Supreme Court, which they said is the fundamental right of every citizen.
“The intention of that expression was to urge the apex court to restart physical hearings, particularly of matters of national importance. The intention was also to engage with the concerns articulated by many regarding the reluctance of the judiciary to play its constitutionally mandated role as a check on governmental excesses and violations of fundamental rights by the state,” they said.
Such criticism, especially by a senior member of the bar, must be considered by the judiciary as an opportunity to introspect and strengthen the institution, the statement says.
“To hold that such criticism shakes the foundations of the judiciary and needs to be dealt with an iron hand, appears to be a disproportionate response which could, in fact, diminish the reputation of the Court,” they added.
“Every institution in a democracy has to earn the public’s affection and respect, and the hallmark of a strong institution is its openness to public scrutiny and commentary. The judgment will have a chilling effect on people expressing critical views on the functioning of the judiciary. Stifling of criticism by stakeholders does not bode well for any institution, especially the highest court in the country.” the statement concludes.
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