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Rajdeep Sardesai, Senior Journalist, Cleared of Contempt of Court Charges By Supreme Court

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Photo Credit: Rajdeep Sardesai - Rajdeep Sardesai and Aamir Khan at a function to felicitate IBN7 Super Idols - Bollywood Hungama - CC 3.0 UA [Cropped and Resized] Supreme Court - Legaleagle86 - CC BY-SA 3.0

Rajdeep Sardesai, the senior journalist of India Today, was spared court proceedings initiated on charges of contempt of court on Tuesday after the Supreme Court clarified the same, and called it an “inadvertent mistake”, reported Bar and Bench.

“This is in context with news item being flashed in some news channels about initiating suo moto criminal contempt proceeding against Mr. Rajdeep Sardesai by Supreme court, it is made clear that no such proceeding has been initiated against Mr. Rajdeep Sardesai,” a statement from the Supreme Court read.

The apex court had on the same day registered a complaint against Sardesai in response to a 2020 petition filed against him, alleging him of contempt of court for some tweets related to the conviction of advocate Prashant Bhushan.

Astha Khurana, from Panipat, Haryana, had filed a petition with the Attorney General KK Venugopal stating that Sardesai had “scandalised the court” in several of his tweets, including those on the conviction of Bhushan.

Bhushan was charged with contempt of court by advocate Harish Salve on the basis of an interview that had featured in the magazine Tehelka in 2009, in which he made allegations of corruption in the judiciary. He was convicted in 2020 along with a fine of Re 1.

Sardesai’s tweets in relation to the same included:

In her complaint, Khurana, through advocates on record Om Prakash Parihar and Dushyant Tiwari, had stated that Sardesai’s tweets critiquing the apex court’s verdict in Bhushan’s contempt case amounted to a “cheap publicity stunt”.

She submitted that not only did “Sardesai question the credibility of this Hon’ble Court judgment, but he has also passed various comments against the ex-judges and ex-Chief Justice of India in past and have also tried to teach the Hon’ble Judges their duties and responsibilities,” referring to Justice Arun Mishra who had presided over the Bhushan contempt of court proceedings.

However, the petition was rejected by Venugopal as they were not of serious nature.

“The reputation of the Supreme Court as one of the great pillars of our democracy has been built assiduously over the last 70 years. Trifling remarks and mere passing criticism though perhaps distasteful are unlikely to tarnish the image of the institution,” Venugopal stated.

Khurana proceeded to file the petition with the Supreme Court, seeking contempt of court proceedings which the court rubbished later, under the garb of a “mistake”.

Sardesai was recently taken off-air for two weeks for spreading misinformation regarding the on-going farmers’ protests in New Delhi.

Earlier instances of contempt of court proceedings that stifled freedom of speech and expression

In 2020, comedian Kunal Kamra and cartoonist Rachita Taneja of Sanitary Panels were booked under contempt of court after they called out the Supreme Court’s alleged bias towards Republic TV editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami, who was granted bail in the case of abetment to suicide of Mumbai-based interior designer Anvay Naik.

While Kamra had, in a series of tweets, called the apex court the “supreme joke of this country”, Taneja had tweeted a stick-figure cartoon showing the highest court with a saffron flag and carry the label “Sanghi Court of India”.

The tweets, according to the Solicitor- General Venugopal, “attacked” the apex court and were “in bad taste” and “clearly cross the line between humor and contempt of the court”. Two separate complaints were filed by two law students and sent to Venugopal, who accepted them initiating contempt of court proceedings.

Consequently, both Kamra and Taneja were sent show cause notices by the Supreme Court, seeking a response that would explain why a contempt of court proceeding should not be carried out against them.

Kamra, who refused to apologise or retract his tweets, followed with a counter-affidavit and an open letter stating that his tweets were not intended to insult the court but were a comedian’s perception, which was used to make the audience who share the same perception, laugh.

Taneja’s lawyer Mukul Rohtagi urged her case to be treated separately from that of Kamra’s and said: “A criticism of the court is not contempt. I don’t know why the Court has issued notice. The foundation of Court is much stronger.”

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