ICJ raises concern on SC decision in Bhushan case — says it’s inconsistent with international standards

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ICJ raises concern on SC decision in Bhushan case — says it’s inconsistent with international standards
Activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan addresses a press conference after Supreme Court imposed a token fine of one rupee as punishment in a contempt case against himBCCL
  • The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) has joined 1,800 other lawyers calling for the Indian Supreme Court to reassess its standards of criminal contempt after the Prashant Bhushan case verdict.
  • The international human rights organisation made up mostly of lawyers and judges claims that the verdict is inconsistent with international standards.
  • It argues that, if left unchecked, such convictions could have a “chilling effect” on the freedom of expression in India.
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The case of two tweets by the lawyer and activist Prashant Bhushan that were critical of the Indian judiciary and the Chief Justice of India (CJI) is now in the global spotlight.

The International Commission of Jurists ( ICJ) — an international human rights organisation made up of lawyers and judges — has joined 1,800 Indian lawyers asking India’s Supreme Court to review the standards of criminal contempt as a reaction to Bhushan’s verdict.

Left unchecked, the institution argues that there could be a “chilling effect” on the freedom of expression in India.

“There is a general concern that the protection of freedom of expression is rapidly eroding in India,” said Ian Seiderman, ICJ Legal and Policy Director.

Bhushan’s ruling inconsistent with international standards
Bhushan was held in criminal contempt of court for going on a public platform, Twitter, to call out the Supreme Court for not doing enough for citizens of the country during the lockdown.

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ICJ raises concern on SC decision in Bhushan case — says it’s inconsistent with international standards
Prashant Bhushan's tweets Twitter

“While the Court only imposed a symbolic fine of one rupee, rather than imprisonment, the ICJ considers that the conviction appears to be inconsistent with international standards on freedom of expression and the role of lawyers”, ICJ said in a statement.

International standards refer to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights — a multilateral treaty adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1966 that India was a party to — which guarantees the freedom of expression.

“While some restrictions of freedom of expression are permitted by international standards, a particularly wide scope must be preserved for debate and discussion about such matters as the role of the judiciary, access to justice, and democracy, by members of the public, including through public commentary on the courts,” it added.

ICJ joins 1,800 Indian lawyers
Last month, more than 1,800 members of the Indian Bar — including senior advocates like Sriram Panchu, Raju Ramachandram, Mihir Desai and others— issued a statement criticising the Supreme Court for its verdict. The signatories said, “a silenced bar cannot lead to a strong court.”

According to them, just because the judiciary is independent of other functions of the state does not imply that it is exempt from scrutiny.
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“This judgment does not restore the authority of the court in the eyes of the public. Rather, it will discourage lawyers from being outspoken,” the consortium of lawyers said in their joint statement.

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