Police added fresh charges on Sunday against Delhi-based freelance journalist Prashant Kanojia, who was arrested for allegedly sharing an objectionable post on Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath on social media.
Police also sealed the premises of a private television news channel in Noida for allegedly running without a licence, a day after arresting its chief and editor, also for broadcasting content allegedly defaming Adityanath.
The police action has sparked outrage in media circles, and the Editors Guild of India on Sunday criticised what it described as the “authoritarian misuse of laws”.
Kanojia last week shared a video of a Kanpur-based woman making allegations against Adityanath. He was picked up from his Delhi home on Saturday morning and sent to jail in the evening. The aforementioned woman has also been arrested.
Senior superintendent of police (SSP) of Lucknow, Kalanidhi Naithani, said the initial probe provided evidence against Kanojia under Section 505 of IPC for making, publishing or circulating false statements, report or rumour and under Section 67 of the Information Technology Act for transmitting obscene material in electronic form.
The SSP said the FIR against Kanojia was earlier registered under Section 500 of the IPC (defamation) and Section 66 of the IT Act (computer-related offences) at Hazratganj police station on Friday night. But police did not provide any corroborative evidence about the new sections, or whether a magistrate had signed off on the defamation charge, mandatory because Section 500 is a non-cognisable offence.
Separately, Noida city magistrate Shailendra Mishra issued an order to seal for two months the premises of Nation Live, a day after Ishika Singh, channel head and Anuj Shukla, editor, were arrested for broadcasting a video of a Kanpur-based woman making allegations against the CM.
“The incident could have led to serious law and order problems in the future. So it is very important to take concrete action against the channel and in order to stop immediate broadcast, the premises in sector 65 will be sealed for two months starting June 9,” said magistrate’s order. Besides Singh and Shukla, two others were booked for allegedly carrying ‘unverified’ content.
“Two of the [other] accused are absconding at the moment and we are working on locating and arresting them,” said senior superintendent of police Vaibhav Krishna. While one of them is an anchor, the other is a lawyer.
Officials said that documents showed the channel had a licence for ‘Network 10’ and not ‘Nation Live’, making it illegal. A separate case was registered under various sections of the IPC.
The arrests continued to spark outrage for a second day with many activists and lawyers saying the police action muzzled free speech. “The police action is high-handed, arbitrary and amounts to an authoritarian misuse of laws,” the Editors Guild said.
Senior lawyer and Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi urged the Allahabad HC to take suo-motu cognizance of the matter. “The detention of Prashant Kanojia for posting a video which fell foul of actors of state government is illegal and a miscarriage of justice,” he tweeted.
“We express our collective outrage at the manner in which Prashant Kanojia, Ishita Singh and Anuj Shuklahave been arrested by UP Police,” Indian Women’s Press Corps, Press Club of India, South Asian Women in the Media Press Association said in a joint statement.