Prashant Bhushan’s conviction seems at odds with international free speech law: International Commission of Jurists

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) on Tuesday said civil rights lawyer Prashant Bhushan’s conviction for criminal contempt of court by the Supreme Court seemed to be inconsistent with the freedom of expression law guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that India was a party to.

In a statement, the ICJ, an international human rights organisation comprising judges and lawyers, said it joined 1,800 Indian lawyers in calling for the Supreme Court to review the standards of criminal contempt.

Mr. Bhushan was convicted on August 14 and sentenced to pay a fine of Re.1 on Monday for the two tweets he had posted about the Supreme Court and Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde.

“While the Court only imposed a symbolic fine of one rupee, rather than imprisonment, the ICJ considers that the conviction appears to be inconsistent with international standards on freedom of expression and the role of lawyers”, the statement said.

The ICJ said the judgment risked having a “chilling effect on the exercise of protected freedom of expression in India”.

“While some restrictions of freedom of expression are permitted by international standards, a particularly wide scope must be preserved for debate and discussion about such matters as the role of the judiciary, access to justice, and democracy, by members of the public, including through public commentary on the courts”, it stated.

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