The Supreme Court today has granted interim protection from arrest to Advocate Prashant Bhushan in FIR registered against him by Gujarat Police alleging hurting of religious sentiments.
The Notice was issued by the Bench of Justice Ashok Bhushan and Sanjiv Khanna and matter was posted after two weeks.
The Bench ordered that no coercive action is to be taken till next date of hearing.
During hearing, Justice Ashok Bhushan asked Senior Advocate Dushyant Dave, who appeared for Prashant Bhushan, “ Mr. Dave, anybody can watch anything on TV. How can you say people cannot watch this and that?” Dave replied, “ No, we are not people watching something on TV. But we are on FIR.” It was an evident dig at the union minister Prakash Javdekar who had tweeted a picture of himself watching Ramayan on TV, while millions of migrants took the streets to return to their homes early last month,
The FIR was registered after Bhushan in response to the minister’s tweet wrote: “As crores starve and walk hundreds of miles home due to the lockdown, our heartless Ministers celebrate consuming and feeding the opium of Ramayana and Mahabharata to the people.”
It was alleged that this tweet amounted to hurting of religious sentiments in the complaint lodged by former Army Personnel Jaydev Rajnikant Joshi at Bhaktinagar Police Station, Rajkot, Gujarat under Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code.
Advocate Kamini Jaiswal filed Writ Petition in Supreme Court in which Prashant Bhushan states that his tweet was only highlighting apathy of Union Minister in handling migrant worker crisis and he didn’t intend to hurt religious sentiments. . Bhushan also states that the FIR amounts to infringement of fundamental rights of Freedom of speech and expression and no offence is made out against him. He says that his genuine criticism has been twisted out of context to give a perverse meaning.
The FIR also mentions along with Section 295A, offence under Section 505(1) (b) of IPC. Mr. Bhushan states that this offence is included in FIR for retweeting two tweets of Ashlin Mathews (National Herald editor) and Kannan Gopinathan(former IAS Officer). Ashlin mathews on March 29 had criticised direction of Union Government to declare sports stadium as jail for housing migrant workers. Kannan Gopinathan had on March 30 criticised the order cutting salaries of AIIMS doctors/staff to contribute to PM Cares Fund even as they were in distressing conditions doing their duty.
Mr. Bhushan stated that his retweets were valid criticism of Government, and cannot amount to an offence under Section 505(1) (b) which deals with the act of creating alarm or fear to public inducing them to commit offence against public tranquility.
He also stated that several people retweeted tweets of Ashlin Mathews and Kannan Gopinathan, but his tweets were selectively targeted.
It is stated in plea that offences under Sections 295A and 505(1) (b) are not made out with respect to the tweets.
It is also asserted by Mr. Bhushan that FIR is an abuse of process of law to muzzle valid criticism of Government actions.
He states in plea, “ FIR belatedly registered after 15 days is nothing but an attempt to curb criticism of government policies/ actions and is malafide, vexatious, malicious, frivolous and abuse of process of law and violative of right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) and ingredients of offences are prima facie not made out.”
-India Legal Bureau