The Supreme Court on Tuesday, June 11, ordered the immediate release of journalist Prashant Kanojia on bail. Kanojia was arrested on June 8 by the Uttar Pradesh Police for allegedly "defaming" Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on social media platforms, including Twitter and Facebook.
Hearing a petition filed by Kanojia's wife Jagisha Arora, a vacation bench of the SC, comprising justices Indira Banerjee and Ajay Rastogi, said that though they do not appreciate the tweet, this was not a case of murder and the judicial custody till June 22 is "not appropriate".
"Liberty of citizen is sacrosanct and non-negotiable. It is guaranteed by the Constitution and it cannot be infringed," Justice Banerjee said.
Condemning the UP government's argument, the SC reportedly said, "Have you ever come across remand for 11 days in such a case? Sit behind the bars day after day and challenge the order? That is not a very fair stand."
Arora had filed a haebus corpus petition, challending Kanojia's arrest and demanded for a direction to the Uttar Pradesh Police to release him without any delay. The plea had also sought departmental action against the policemen, who were not in uniform, for arresting Kanojia from Delhi for "bailable offences", and "exemplary damages" for Kanojia for his "illegal arrest".
"The Hindi journalist was unceremoniously taken away by men in civil dress on June 8 from his Delhi residence. It transpires that on June 7, police officials of Police Station Hazaratganj at Lucknow had lodged an FIR against him under sections 500 (criminal defamation) of the IPC and 66 of the Information Technology (IT) Act and both offences are bailable," the plea had said.
Section 505 (statements conducing to public mischief) of the IPC and Section 67 (Punishment for publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form) of the IT Act were added later to the FIR. Arora's petition says, "Neither of these sections are even prima-facie made out".
Addressing the media after the judgment, Arora said that she is happy and hopes for Kanojia to come out of jail as soon as possible. Her lawyer Shadan Farasat also reportedly said they will approach the Delhi High Court to quash the FIR against Kanojia.
Four people, including Kanojia, Anuj Shukla, who is the editor of Noida-based TV channel Nation Live and Ishika Singh, the channel's head, were arrested in two days on charges of posting allegedly objectionable content about the Uttar Pradesh CM.
Kanojia was arrested for allegedly sharing a video on Twitter and Facebook, in which a woman is seen speaking to reporters of various media organisations outside Yogi Adityanath's office, claiming that she had sent him a marriage proposal.
The Editors Guild of India condemned the arrests on June 9, saying that the police action "amounts to an authoritarian misuse of law".
The statement issued by the guild also called it "an effort to intimidate the press, and stifle freedom of expression."