The Supreme Court on Monday adjourned by four weeks the hearing on three petitions seeking criminal contempt action against comedian Kunal Kamra for his tweets about Supreme Court.
The adjournment was on the basis of a request made by one of the petitioners seeking time to file rejoinder to the counter-affidavit submitted by Kamra. The bench granted four weeks time for rejoinder and directed the listing of the case after four weeks.
A bench comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan and R Subhash Reddy considered the petitions of Abhyudaya Mishra, Skand Bajpai and Shrirang Kantneshwarkar, which were filed by after the Attorney General for India granted consent for initiating contempt proceedings against Kamra. The Court tagged with these matters another petition filed by Anuj Singh, seeking contempt with respect to the 'middle finger' tweet and Instagram post of Kamra.
Responding to the contempt plea, Kamra has filed an affidavit stating that his tweets were not published with the intention of insulting the Court but to draw its attention to and prompt an engagement with issues that he believes are relevant to the Indian democracy. Kamra also said that public faith in the Judiciary cannot be shaken by any criticism or commentary but only by the Courts own actions and accord.
The affidavit stated,
"My tweets were not published with the intention of diminishing the faith of the people in the highest court of our democracy. It is funny though, how little faith the Petitioner appears to have in the people of this country. The suggestion that my tweets could shake the foundations of the most powerful court in the world is an over-estimation of my abilities. Just as the Supreme Court values the faith the public places in it (and seeks to protect it by the exercise of its criminal contempt jurisdiction in the judiciary is founded on the institution's own actions, and not on any criticism or commentary about it".
Kamra stated no institution of power, not even Courts are beyond criticism in a democracy. "I believe that constitutional offices, including judicial offices — know no protection from jokes. I do not believe that any high authority, including judges, would find themselves unable to discharge their duties only on account of being the subject of satire or comedy," he added.
The Top Court's bench comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan, R Subhash Reddy and MR Shah had issued notice to Kamra on December 18, on the petitions seeking criminal contempt action against him for his tweets against the Judiciary.
Kamra had posted a picture of the Supreme Court dressed in saffron colour with the flag of the ruling party, the BJP. He also published several controversial remarks against the Supreme Court such as 'honour has left the building (Supreme Court) long back' and 'Supreme Court of the country is the most Supreme joke of the country'.
The Attorney General for India had found these tweets to be 'highly objectionable' and he stated that it is time that people understand that attacking the Supreme Court of India unjustifiedly and brazenly will attract punishment under the Contempt of Courts Act, 1972.
Responding to the proceedings, Kamra submitted that his tweets were meant as a joke for people who share the same perception as him. However, with the growing culture of intolerance in the country, assault on freedom of speech and expression has become a common case.
On November 12, finding Kamra's tweet to be highly objectionable, the AG granted his consent under Section 15(1)(b) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 to initiate criminal contempt. He said,
"I find that today people believe that they can boldly and brazenly condemn the Supreme Court of India and its judges by exercising what they believe is their freedom of speech. But under the Constitution, the freedom of speech is subject to the law of contempt and I believe that it is time that people understand that attacking the Supreme Court of India unjustifiedly and brazenly will attract punishment under the Contempt of Courts Act, 1972."
The AG also noted that Kamra posted a picture of the Supreme Court dressed in saffron colour with the flag of the ruling party, the BJP.
Taking strong exception to this tweet, the AG KK Venugopal commented:
"This is a gross insinuation against the entirety of the Supreme Court of India that the Supreme Court of India is not an independent and impartial institution and so too its judges, but on the other hand is a court of the ruling party, the BJP, existing only for the BJP's benefit".
Kamra reacted to AG's consent by saying that he has no intention to 'retract or apologize for his tweets'.
"My view hasn't changed because the silence of the Supreme Court of India on matters of other's personal liberty cannot go uncriticised. I don't intend to retract my tweets or apologize for them. I believe they speak for themselves," he said in a statement posted on Twitter, addressed to the judges and the attorney general.
He added that the "silence of the Supreme Court on matters of other's personal liberty cannot go uncriticized".
In the statement published through Twitter, Kamra suggested that the time required for the contempt hearing against him may be spent on other important pending matters such as "demonetization petition, a petition challenging the revocation of J&K's special status, the matter of the legality of electoral bonds or countless other matters that are deserving of more time and attention"
Kamra had made a series of tweets regarding the Supreme Court and initiation of contempt against him has been sought for 4 of his tweets posted in the wake of the Supreme Court granting interim bail to Arnab Goswami.