The Supreme Court on Tuesday slammed the Uttar Pradesh government for arresting journalist Prashant Kanojia and ordered to release him immediately. Journalist Prashant Kanojia was arrested by the UP police for posting a video on Twitter and Facebook on CM Yogi Adityanath. The Supreme Court asked the UP government why was he arrested and under what provisions. A vacation bench comprising Justices Indira Banerjee and Ajay Rastogi was hearing the habeas corpus petition filed by Kanojia’s wife Jagisha Arora. According to the verified Twitter handle of Kanojia @Pjkanojia, he is a former student of Mumbai University.
It is notable that Prashant Kanojia was in jail for the past three days. He was not produced before any Magistrate to seek a transit remand. No arrest memo was prepared and neither Kanojia nor his wife was told of why he was being taken and who the arresting officials in civil dress were.
An FIR was registered against Prashant Kanojia at Hazratganj police station on Friday night in Lucknow. The UP Police alleged that the accused made objectionable comments against the CM and tried to malign his image. Prashant Kanojia had shared a video on Twitter and Facebook where a woman is seen speaking to reporters of various media organisations outside the CM’s office, expressing her desire to marry Yogi Adityanath and claiming that she had sent him a marriage proposal. Kanojia had shared a video on Twitter and Facebook where a woman is seen speaking to reporters of various media organisations outside the CM’s office, claiming that she had sent a marriage proposal to Adityanath. She claimed in the video that she had been conversing with the chief minister for a long time over video chat and that now she wanted to know if he was willing to spend his life with her.
According to Jagisha Arora’s petition, the FIR against Kanojia has been filed under Sections 500 of the Indian Penal Code and 66 of the Information Technology Act, both of which are bailable offences. It is strange that the police filed a case against Section 500 (defamation) since the law requires the concerned person (in this case CM Yogi Adityanath) to file a complaint himself. There are procedural lapses on the part of the police, including not presenting Kanojia before a magistrate and no arrest memo being prepared. Two sections were later added to the charges, which were not on the original FIR – IPC Section 505 and IT Act Section 67. Jagisha Arora said in her petition that neither of these sections are prima-facie made out. The malice is evident from the manner of the arrest.
Prashant Kanojia was unceremoniously taken away by men in a civil dress on June 8, 2019, from his Delhi residence. The police officials of Lucknow had lodged an FIR against him under Sections 500 IPC and 66 Information Technology Act, 2000 both of which bailable offences. Actually, the police can have no role whatsoever to lodge an FIR in a case under Section 500 IPC, which is criminal defamation, and requires under Section 199, CrPC that the person aggrieved alone may file a complaint before a Magistrate. Section 66 of the Information Act carries a maximum sentence of 3 years which is bailable in terms of section 77 B of the Act. The police was bound to release him in Delhi itself in terms of Section 436 CrPC which mandates release on bail in bailable cases but this statutory mandate was not even considered by the police.
The Supreme Court bench took note of the submission of the lawyer Nitya Ramakrishnan, appearing for Jagisha Arora that the plea needed urgent hearing as the arrest was illegal and unconstitutional. The Uttar Pradesh government opposed the bail application filed by Kanojia’s wife. The UP government said that the high court should have been first approached. The Supreme Court does not ordinarily entertain writ petition unless the high court has first been approached. The Supreme Court slammed the UP government and said, “Have you ever come across remand for 11 days in such a case? The Supreme Court bench also made it clear that the court does not appreciate the tweets posted by Kanojia but those cannot be grounds to send him behind bars. The bench said, “We need not comment on the nature of the posts/tweets for which the action has been taken. The question is whether the petitioner’s husband ought to have been deprived of his liberty. The answer to that is prima facie in the negative. We find that the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution of India and particularly under Articles 19 and 21 are non-negotiable.”
The UP government said, “They have checked Kanojia’s Twitter profile and observed that he has been posting inflammatory content against God and religion. He has also tweeted about politicians and other public personalities.” The Supreme Court said, “A citizen’s right to liberty has been infringed. We have gone through the records. Opinions may vary, this sort of thing should not have been published. But why arrest?”
A group of journalists and activists held a protest in Delhi on Monday over the arrest of journalist Prashant Kanojia and the editor and the head of a Noida-based TV channel by the Uttar Pradesh police, alleging that it is an attack on the freedom of expression. They demanded the immediate release of Kanojia, Anuj Shukla, who is the editor of Noida-based TV channel Nation Live, and its head Ishika Singh, who have faced police action over the release of alleged objectionable content against Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
Another person was arrested in Gorakhpur on Sunday for ‘defaming’ Adityanath, making it the fourth such arrest in the last three days. Earlier, Ishika Singh, head of a Noida-based news channel, and Anuj Shukla, one of the editors of the channel, were arrested for allegedly making “objectionable comments” and “propagating defamatory content” against the UP chief minister.
Chronology of the case
June 5: A lady calling herself Hema Shrivastava addressed a group of persons/reporters in Lucknow claiming to be in love with the CM Yogi Adityanath. A video clip of this was uploaded on YouTube and some other portals by the next day and these are still accessible.
June 6: Prashant Kanojia posted a video on Twitter and Facebook saying “ Ishq Chupaye Nahin Chupta Yogi Ji”
June 6-7: Some newspapers also published this news.
June 7: An FIR was lodged by Hazratganj PS Lucknow
June 8: Prashant Kanojia was arrested and sent to Lucknow Central Jail.
June 9: The Editors Guild of India condemned the arrest of Kanojia.
June 10: His wife Jagisha Arora filed the habeas corpus petition in the Supreme Court.
June 11: The Supreme Court ordered the Uttar Pradesh government to release Prashant Kanojia immediately.