New Delhi, May 1: The Supreme Court on Friday granted interim protection to activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan from arrest in an FIR lodged against him in Gujarat for allegedly hurting religious sentiment through his tweet.

“Let notice be issued. No coercive action to be taken till next date of hearing,” said the apex court bench, comprising justices Ashok Bhushan and Sanjiv Khanna.

The two-judge bench, through video conferencing, directed the Gujarat government to respond on the matter within two weeks. The case will be next heard in two weeks, The Mint reported.

Bhushan on 28 March tweeted, “As crores starve & walk hundreds of miles home due to forced lockdown, our heartless ministers celebrate consuming & feeding the opium of Ramayana & Mahabharata to the people!” The tweet was in reaction to a photo of Union Minister Prakash Javadekar where he is seen watching Ramayana during the lockdown.

The FIR against Bhushan was lodged by a retired army personnel Jaydev Joshi in Rajkot, Gujarat, on the grounds of “hurting Hindu religious sentiments” for using the word “opium” with Ramayana.

Justice Bhushan asked senior advocate Dushyant Dave, appearing for Bhushan, “Anybody can watch anything on TV. How can you say people cannot watch this and that?”

Bhushan in his plea, seeking quashing of the FIR, claimed that no prima facie case was made against him and the registration of the FIR was against his right to freedom of speech and expressions. He said the phrase “religion is the opium of the masses” is a famous quote of Karl Marx and had been used in 2012 in a judgment by the Delhi high court.

Bhushan said he had no intention to hurt religious sentiments and his tweet, which was meant to highlight the plight of migrant workers, had been taken out of context.

He said the FIR was an abuse of the process of law and “an attempt to curb criticism of government policies/actions and is malafide, vexatious, malicious, frivolous”.

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