The Supreme Court Tuesday came down heavily on Uttar Pradesh police for arresting freelance journalist Prashant Kanojia, saying that he should be immediately released on bail. The court, however, clarified that its order should not be seen as an approval of Kanojia’s social media posts.
Hearing a habeas corpus petition filed by Kanojia’s wife, a vacation bench comprising Justices Indira Banerjee and Ajay Rastogi observed that the “liberty of a citizen is sacrosanct and non-negotiable” and that “it is guaranteed by the Constitution and it cannot be infringed”.
Justice Banerjee asked how an arrest could be made over tweets, to which the Additional Solicitor General (ASG) appearing for UP government replied that Kanojia had made provocative tweets against gods and religion on previous occasions and therefore offence of public mischief under Section 505 of IPC was added in the list of charges.
Expressing dissatisfaction over the prosecutor’s remarks, the bench said that the Magistrate’s order of remanding Kanojia till June 22 was “not appropriate”.
Kanojia was arrested Saturday last week for allegedly uploading a video on Twitter in which a woman is heard making some claims about Yogi Adityanath. An FIR was lodged against Kanojia at Lucknow’s Hazratganj police station under Sections 505 (statements conducing to public mischief) and 500 (defamation) of the IPC, and Section 67 of IT Act (publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form) on a complaint filed by Sub-Inspector Vikas Kumar.
The head of a Noida-based news channel that had broadcast the video shared by Kanojia was arrested, along with one of the editors of the channel. A fourth person named Raju Singh Yadav was arrested Monday morning for allegedly uploading morphed photographs of the CM and the Kanpur-based woman on Facebook.
On Sunday, the Editors Guild of India condemned Kanojia’s arrest, calling it a “brazen misuse of law” and an “effort to intimidate the press and stifle freedom of expression”.
The Opposition too reacted to the arrests sharply, with Congress president Rahul Gandhi saying that if “every journalist who files a false report or peddles fake, vicious RSS/BJP sponsored propaganda about him is put in jail, most newspapers or news channels would face a severe staff shortage”. He also said that Adityanath is behaving foolishly and needs to release the arrested journalists.