Indian Court Hands Down Symbolic Sentence for Outspoken Lawyer

The case against Prashant Bhushan, a public interest lawyer who criticized the Supreme Court and its chief justice in tweets, was seen as a test of free expression in the world’s largest democracy.

NEW DELHI — India’s Supreme Court on Monday handed down a symbolic sentence — a fine of about 1 cent — to a prominent lawyer who posted tweets critical of the court and its chief justice.

The case against the lawyer, Prashant Bhushan, effectively put India’s highest court on trial, with many lawyers and activists claiming that the conviction alone of Mr. Bhushan was emblematic of the court’s eroding independence and relevance.

Mr. Bhushan faced a maximum sentence of six months in prison for the tweets, which included a photograph of the chief justice astride a Harley-Davidson motorcycle owned by a political ally of the country’s powerful prime minister.

Rights activists feared that a jail term for the outspoken gadfly would quash free speech in the world’s largest democracy and signal a further slip toward authoritarianism.