Attorney General KK Venugopal has given consent to a contempt plea against Kunal Kamra for his tweets on the Supreme Court order of granting interim bail to Republic TV editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami.

In his consent letter, the attorney general said that Kamra’s tweets were “highly objectionable” and it “constitutes criminal contempt of court”.

Background 
The tweets by Kunal Kamra which are at the background of the contempt pleas are as follows:

  1. The Supreme Court of this country is the most Supreme joke of this country…
  2. The pace at which the Supreme Court operates in matters of “National Interests” it’s time we replace Mahatma Gandhi’s photo with Harish Salve’s photo…
  3. DY Chandrachud is a flight attendant serving champagne to first-class passengers after they’re fast-tracked through, while commoners don’t know if they’ll ever be boarded or seated, let alone served.
  4. All lawyers with a spine must stop the use of the prefix “Hon’ble” while referring to the Supreme Court or its judges. Honour has left the building long back…

Mr. Kamra also posted a picture which was a morphed image of Supreme Court building giving it an Orange shade and depicting a BJP flag hoisted in the foyer of the Supreme Court.

These tweets were in light of the bail granted to journalist Mr. Arnab Goswami in a 2018 abetment to suicide case in a record time by Supreme Court. While granting bail to Goswami, Supreme Court judge Justice DY Chandrachud had asked High Courts to exercise their jurisdiction to uphold personal liberty. Chandrachud also said that personal liberty is increasingly becoming a casualty in India and said “we will walk on path of destruction” if the court does not intervene in the matter.

Following these comments, people including Kamra, questioned why the same principle of personal liberty was not applied to other journalists and activists who are imprisoned on allegedly unfounded charges.

Why should the proceedings be dropped? 
Mr. Kamra has rationalized his statements stating that,
My view hasn’t changed because the silence of the Supreme Court of India on matters of other’s personal liberty cannot go uncriticized.

In earlier instances, Attorney General KK Venugopal had denied consent to initiate contempt proceedings against journalist Rajdeep Sardesai and actor Swara Bhaskar. AG Venugopal had rationalized in one of his letters that,
Trifling remarks and mere passing criticism though perhaps distasteful are unlikely to tarnish the image of the institution.

He had also urged the Hon’ble Supreme Court to not proceed against advocate Prashant Bhushan in the suo motu contempt case initiated against him.

As pointed by Mr. Kamra in his tweets, it would be worthwhile to note that decisions over many important matters like demonetisation, abrogation of Article 370 from J&K, legality of electoral bonds, etc. are still pending in the apex court. Additionally, we learned from Prof. Sandeep Pandey, Professor at IIM Ahmedabad and Magsaysay Awardee that a number of activists, intellectuals, lawyers, human rights activists including the ones in Bhima Koregaon case and Delhi riots case are still languishing in jail. (https://thewire.in/rights/jail-bail-hearings-court-delhi-riots-elgar-parishad)

The Indian Express editorial in its article “A Justice Lecture” has succinctly put forth the merits in Kunal Kamra’s tweets

Granting interim bail within a day to Arnab Goswami in a 2018 suicide abetment case, Supreme Court Justice DY Chandrachud correctly described the responsibility of the apex court:

“Forget Arnab Goswami for a moment, we are a constitutional court… If we as a constitutional court do not lay down law and protect personal liberty, then who will?”

Yet the disheartening impression will not go away: That is the extraordinary alacrity it showed in this matter while turning an unseeing eye and inattentive ear to other cases that involve personal liberty and free expression of citizens for weeks and months, the court itself singled out Goswami. Justice Chandrachud was right, again, to say that “If we don’t interfere in this case today, we will walk on a path of destruction” and that a message must be sent to high courts. In its manner and timing, Goswami’s arrest reeked heavily of political vendetta.

And yet, what is also glaringly evident is that the Supreme Court has not held itself to its own high standard in several other cases of citizen vs state, ranging from habeas corpus petitions in Kashmir to detentions made on flimsy charges of sedition to the slapping of draconian laws on journalists for no other apparent reason than that they were doing their job… 
…The singular urgency the SC has shown in the case of the Republic TV chief…fits a dismal pattern. Scrutiny by this newspaper of 10 cases involving free speech that came before the SC since January revealed that in cases where the court upheld that right or gave relief, the state and the petitioner argued on the same side — there was no relief to the petitioner in six cases where the state was the defendant and objected.  
Incidentally, or not, then too, one of the first cases in which the court granted relief was filed by Goswami, seeking quashing of FIRs filed in connection with a TV show. Moreover, the apex court presides over the routine flouting of its guidelines for cases of sedition. Be it the arrest of 19-year-old Amulya Leona in Karnataka for merely raising slogans, to arrests made across states of other anti-CAA protestors, numerous remand orders by magistrates have stated no reasons and asked no questions about clear and immediate incitement to violence, a necessary requirement for the charge of sedition.” 

A list of activists, scribes and scholars who have been struggling in having their basic human rights of liberty protected:

  1. Stan Swamy – an 83-year-old tribal rights activist based in Jharkhand – arrested in Elgar Parishad case – suffering from several age-related issues including Parkinson’s, his  application for interim bail was rejected; his plea to use a straw and sipper in prison to drink water postponed by 20 days by NIA; notably Fr. Swamy is lodged in the same infamous Taloja prison which was recently in news during Arnab Goswami’s case
  2. Anand Teltumbde – an academic and civil liberties activist – arrested in Elgar Parishad case – petition for bail did not yet come up for hearing in the Court
  3. Varavara Rao – a 79 year old activist – arrested in August 2018 in Elgar Parishad case – bail applications on health conditions rejected time and again
  4. Sagar Gorkhe, Ramesh Gaichor and Jyoti Jagtap – activists of Kabir Kala Manch – arrested for alleged connections to the Elgar Parishad case – struggling to get a single proper hearing before the Bombay High Court
  5. Meeran Haider, Asif Iqbal Tanha, Shifa Ur Rehman – students at the Jamia Millia Islamia University – arrested under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for allegedly conspiring to incite large-scale communal violence in Delhi in February – inhumane custody conditions
  6. Sudha Bharadwaj – activist- arrested in 2018 in the Elgar Parishad case – interim bail pleas on deteriorating medical conditions rejected by courts.

The above list is only illustrative and by no means exhaustive.

Should voices of dissent be silenced? 
Noted intellectual Anand Ranganathan has compiled a list of citizens who have been framed under one law or the other for voicing their dissent. He states that irrespective of whether we agree or disagree with someone, dissent should be welcomed in a democracy.

Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, heading the Bench for Arnab Goswami’s case had orally observed that

People are now put in jail for a tweet… We are travelling through the path of destruction of liberty. You may not like his ideology. Left to myself, I will not watch his channel. But citizens are sent to jail, high courts don’t grant bail. We have to send a strong message.

In a previous hearing, he had observed:
Dissent is the safety valve of democracy. If dissent is not allowed, then the pressure cooker may burst.

Rohan Saxena is currently a second year MBA student at IIM Ahmedabad


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