Indian Court: Dissident Must Apologize for Tweets or Go to Jail

Indian Supreme Court lawyer and anti-corruption activist Prashant Bhushan (L) gestures as he speaks during a public talk, in Bangalore on March 30, 2019. (Photo by MANJUNATH KIRAN / AFP) (Photo by MANJUNATH KIRAN/AFP via Getty Images)
MANJUNATH KIRAN/AFP via Getty Images

A prominent government critic in India must either apologize for two tweets critical of India’s supreme court or face jail time, a local court has ruled.

Prashant Bhushan is a public interest lawyer who has built a reputation around challenging recent Indian governments and criticizing Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Bhushan appeared in court on Tuesday for posting two tweets which India’s supreme court ruled were a “calculated attack on the very foundation of the institution of the judiciary” and in “serious contempt of court” on August 14. The court had previously given Bhushan until August 24 to apologize for the tweets. That deadline passed on Monday, with Bhushan refusing to apologize and saying he would rather face the sentence of six months in jail, according to Voice of America (VOA).

In one tweet, Bhushan posted a photograph of Indian Chief Justice Sharad Arvind Bobde on what appears to be an expensive motorcycle, reportedly owned by the son of a local politician belonging to the ruling BJP party, which Bhushan opposes. Bobde is pictured without a sanitary mask while surrounded by people.

In the tweet, “Bhushan said it was hypocritical of the chief justice to be in a crowd without a mask when the justice had ordered the court to shut down during the coronavirus outbreak, denying Indians of their ‘fundamental right to access justice’,” VOA wrote of the post, which Twitter censored.

The court denounced the tweet as “patently false” and said it had the power to shake public confidence in the nation’s judiciary. Bhushan’s hearing has been adjourned until September 10.

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