Prominent Indian lawyer convicted in contempt and fined rupee

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NEW DELHI, Aug.31 (Reuters) – India’s highest court on Monday imposed a symbolic rupee ($ 0.0136) fine on a prominent lawyer convicted of criminal contempt for Twitter posts criticizing senior judges, which he refused to apologize for. .

A bench of three Supreme Court members said lawyer Prashant Bhushan must pay the fine by September 15, failing which he could be jailed for three months and banned from practicing for three years.

The case sparked a debate about free speech and the opening of the judiciary to criticism, with thousands of lawyers supporting Bhushan and saying the court was too harsh.

“Freedom of speech exists but the rights of others must also be respected,” the court said, imposing the fine on Bhushan.

Bhushan and his lawyers were not immediately available for comment.

In June, Bhushan posted a photo which he said showed Chief Justice SA Bobde astride a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, claiming he was riding a 5 million rupee ($ 67,000) bike without a mask or helmet at the time. that citizens were denied justice because the court was locked out.

Bobde has not publicly commented on the photo.

In another Twitter post the same month, Bhushan said that when historians looked at how democracy had been destroyed in India over the past six years, they would note the role of the Supreme Court and the last four high-level justices. .

Twitter blocked both messages.

In a 108-page order convicting him in criminal contempt earlier in August, the court said the first post was “patently false.”

The same order said that the second had the “effect of destabilizing the very foundation of this important pillar of Indian democracy”, referring to the judiciary.

The court then asked Bhushan, who has championed public interest litigation, to issue an “unconditional apology,” which he refused to do, resulting in the conviction on Monday. ($ 1 = 73.5900 Indian rupees)

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