Update: SC has ordered the release of Prashant Kanojia who was arrested for allegedly defaming Yogi Adityanath over a tweet. However, the SC also slammed the journalist for sharing ‘objectionable posts’ and said that the state ‘can continue a probe against him’.
On June 10th, a protest march was organized from Press Club of India to the Parliament by Editors Guild of India, Press Club of India and various other media houses, condemning the arrest of Prashant Kanojia, a freelance journalist and Noida based TV channel’s head, Ishita Singh and the editor, Anuj Shukla. The former was arrested on June 8th for the apparent charge of defamation against Yogi Adityanath for ‘tweeting’ a video of a woman claiming to be his ‘lover’, while the latter two were arrested for having a panel discussion over the issue.
The protest focused on the premises under which Prashant Kanojia was arrested i.e. four UP personnel dressed in civilian clothing picked him up from his residence without an arrest warrant and neither any consultancy from the Delhi Police. As reported by the source News Laundary, the satirical tweet left Adityanath’s supporters livid and led to an FIR filed against Prashant Kanojia by sub-inspector Vikas Kumar in Lucknow’s Hazratganj police station.
Jagisha, Prashant Kanojia’s wife gave the following statement during the protest “Has the UP state stooped to such a level that they will arrest anyone under Yogi Adityanath’s cue? Many re-tweeted the video, after all how many more journalists will the UP police arrest?”. Jagisha wasn’t informed about the allegations against her husband and expressed her anger over UP police’s actions.
Defamation is a civil offence and not a criminal offence that deserves arrest unless an individual is guilty of spreading hate and violence in a deliberate malicious manner
Prashant Kanojia was arrested under IPC sections 500(defamation), 505 and 67 of the IT act. The protest march consisted of many journalists and activists such as Umar Khalid, who raised slogans and objections against the fascism imposed yet again by Adityanath and his followers. The journalists expressed their dissent over unnecessary criminalisation of defamation which posed a threat to the democratic rights of media and the citizens. Rajdeep Sardesai, the renowned journalist and author gave the following statement, “The time has come to strike down criminal defamation. It’s a bad law, it’s a law which has been misused repeatedly and must be off the statured books of this country. Defamation is a civil offence and not a criminal offence that deserves arrest unless an individual is guilty of spreading hate and violence in a deliberate malicious manner.”
a lot of dissent was expressed during the protest over the sections under which Prashant Kanojia was charged
Moreover, the sources suggest that a discrepancy has been reported in the FIR as it doesn’t consist of Section 505 as mentioned in the press note released by the police. In fact, a lot of dissent was expressed during the protest over the sections under which Prashant Kanojiawas charged which were deemed as invalid and redundant. Kaushik Raj, an editor at Youth ki awaaz gave the following statement over the charges imposed, “They changed the charges, section 500 of defamation is non-cognizable i.e. the police can’t take cognizance only the magistrate can. To make it cognizant, they added IT related sections which are invalid since there was no cyber-crime committed.”
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The two journalists from Nation Lives News, were arrested by sub-inspector of UP police, Dharmendar Singh, under the sections 505(1), 505(2), 501, 153 of IPC because they were allegedly functioning without a license. The protest expressed immense agitation against the curtailing of the basic right of expression. Paranjoy Guha Thakurta renowned journalist and activist, gave the following statement during the protest, “I am personally of the view, the manner in which UP police acted against these individuals is a clear instance of how the law is being misinterpreted and misused. It is a dark day for Indian media. Freedom of expression is a fundamental right of every citizen under article 19(1) A. In this instance by retweeting something on the social media, by putting out something in the public domain is not a case of defamation.” The protest march was organized thus demanding the immediate release of the arrested so as to prevent the UP police commit such an act of fascism again.
The woman from Nawabganj, Kanpur, who claimed to have video chatted with Adityanath for a year was also arrested. The news source, NDTV has reported that around 5 arrests have been made over a tweet within two days. Jagisha, the wife of the Delhi-based journalist has moved to the Supreme court for Prashant Kanojia’s release.
Image credits: Meghna Prakash