The Supreme Court today (Tuesday, June 11) ordered immediate release of journalist Prashant Kanojia, pulling up Uttar Pradesh (UP) police and the State of Uttar Pradesh for arresting him for tweeting against UP chief minister (CM) Yogi Adityanath.
The Court also made it clear that its order should not be seen as approval of Kanojia’s social media posts.
A vacation bench of the Supreme Court,comprising Justices Indira Banerjee and Ajay Rastogi, was hearing a Habeas Corpus petition yesterday by Kanojia’s wifeJagisha Arora, challenging his arrest on Saturday.
The Bench said “liberty of a citizen is sacrosanct and non-negotiable” and that “it is guaranteed by the constitution and it cannot be infringed”.
“Normally we don’t entertain these type of petitions. But a person can’t spend 11 days in jail,” the Supreme Court said.
“It is made clear this order is not construed as an approval of tweets,” the Supreme Court said.
Granting bail to Kanojia, the court said Right to Liberty, a fundamental right, is non-negotiable. “We may disapprove these tweets but we disapprove the denial of liberty,” the top court said.
Justice Banerjee asked how an arrest could be made over tweets, to which the public prosecutor 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”.
Making some strong remarks against UP police and State of Uttar Pradesh, the court also turned down the submission of the State that the petitioner should approach the lower court or High Court for bail.
When the hearing began, Additional Solicitor General Vikramajit Banerjee appearing for Uttar Pradesh submitted that the remand order has been passed by the Judicial Magistrate and hence, Article 32 petition should not be entertained.
“Arrest? A citizen’s right to liberty has been infringed. We have gone through the records… These sort of tweets should not be made, but arrest?”, asked Justice Indira Banerjee.
Expressing shock at the 11 days’ remand for Kanojia, “June 22? He’s remanded for 11 days?” asked Justice Rastogi.
“Is this a murder charge?” demanded Justice Banerjee.
ASG argued that the challenge to the same has to be made in a lower court or High Court.
The court rejected the argument saying that the liberties under the Constitution are sacrosanct and the Court cannot shy away when “something is so glaring”.
“Court does not ordinarily entertain A.32 but the Article is there in Constitution for those whose freedom is affected. When something is so glaring, can court hold its hands and say go to High Court?”, asked Justice Banerjee.
Both the judges took exception to the incarceration of the Kanojia while also stating that what he tweeted might not have been appropriate.
“The Court need not comment on the contents of the tweets. The question is, should the petitioner have been deprived of his liberty over them. The answer to that is prima facie in the negative. Fundamental rights under Article 19 and 21 are non-negotiable.”
The Court, however, also made it clear that the State can proceed against Kanojia in accordance with law.
“I believe in Constitution. I have fought this case. I am happy,” a visibly tired Jagisha Arora told reporters outside the Supreme Court, soon after the hearing.
Prashant Kanojia, a freelance journalist, was arrested by UP police in Delhi on Saturday for a tweet that had “objectionable comments” on Yogi Adityanath. He had shared a video on Twitter and Facebook where 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.
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 same evening, the head of a private news channel and its editor were arrested in Noida. During a debate on the channel on June 6, the woman, whose video was shared by Prashant Kanojia, had allegedly made defamatory statements against Yogi Adityanath, the police said.
Two more people were arrested in Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh, the Chief Minister’s stronghold, on Sunday evening. According to a tweet by police, one man was arrested after a complaint against him was received on Twitter. He was arrested for posting “objectionable content” about the BJP leader.
The arrests over the weekend sparked a huge debate on social media on freedom of expression in the country, with the Editors Guild of India terming the journalists’ arrests “high-handed and arbitrary´ and amounting to “authoritarian misuse of laws”.