Prashnat Kanojia (source: facebook)

Journalist Prashant Kanojia, who was arrested by the Uttar Pradesh police for alleged “objectionable” tweets against Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and other alleged inflammatory posts, was on Tuesday offered relief by the Supreme Court.

Expressing concern over the arrest, the top court has ordered immediate release of the journalist asserting that the right to liberty, a fundamental right, is non-negotiable.

A vacation bench comprising of Justices Indira Banerjee and Ajay Rastogi was hearing a petition by Mr Kanojia’s wife Jagisha Arora, challenging his arrest on Saturday.

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 which amount to the offence of public mischief under Section 505 of IPC, thus adding the charges to the list.

“We do not appreciate the tweets, but can you put him behind bars,” Justice Banerjee asked ASG Vikramjit Banerjee, appearing for the state.

Expressing dissatisfaction over the prosecutor’s remarks, the bench said that the Magistrate’s order of remanding Kanojia till June 22 was “not appropriate”. The bench added it “need not comment on the contents of the tweets”, however, “the question is, should the petitioner have been deprived of his liberty over them [the tweets]”.

“The answer to that is prima facie in the negative. Fundamental rights under Article 19 and 21 are non-negotiable”, the bench added.

The bench said the concern was about the deprivation of liberty. “Sometimes we suffer the brunt of social media, sometimes, it is just and sometimes unjust. Question is only deprivation of liberty,” the bench said asking the state police to show magnanimity.

The court, however, noted that everything that is put up on social media is not correct and that the state could proceed with the trial even after bail.

“It is made clear that this order is not construed as an approval of tweets,” the top court said, clarifying its stand, adding that they disapprove of his tweets but they also disapprove the denial of liberty.

Kanojia was arrested Saturday last week for allegedly posting 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 (relating to 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.

Three other people were also arrested on similar charges of posting objectionable content about the Chief Minister.

  • a head of Noida based news channel that broadcasted the      video shared by Kanojia;
  • one of the editors of the channel; and
  • a person named Raju Singh Yadav, arrested Monday morning for allegedly uploading morphed photographs of the CM and the Kanpur-based woman on Facebook.

The arrests over the weekend sparked a huge debate on social media on freedom of expression in the country.

The Editors Guild of India on Sunmday condemned Kanojia’s arrest, calling it a “brazen misuse of law” and an “effort to intimidate the press and stifle freedom of expression”.

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