Supreme Court, while hearing the bail plea of Journalist Prashant Kanojia who was arrested by the UP Police for posting ‘objectionable content’ on Twitter against Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, on Tuesday ordered the immediate release the journalist.
The Supreme Court vacation bench comprising of Justice Indira Banerjee and Justice Ajay Rastogi was hearing the Habeas Corpus petition filed by Kanojia’s wife, Jagisha Arora, seeking his release. Ordering his release, the bench of justices said that they disapprove the tweet but they also disapprove the action of the UP government which has harmed the liberty of an individual.
“A person’s liberty is being curtailed. Opinions may vary and perhaps such things should not have been posted, but arrest?” asked Justice Indira Banerjee.
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 captioned this video “Ishq chupta nahi chupane se Yogi ji”. Later, an FIR was registered against him at Hazratganj police station in Lucknow under section 500 (defamation) and section 66 of Information Technology act.
Additional Solicitor Vikramjit Banerjee appearing for the Uttar Pradesh government, argued that the Kanojia’s arrest was a necessary action as they have checked his tweets and post which are full of inflammatory content against religion, God, politicians and various public figures. Vikramjit submitted Kanojia’s old tweet where he has been found insulting God and religion.
The apex court disapproved of language used in the tweets submitted by the defence lawyer and 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?” the court also asked, “Under what provision has he been arrested for this?”
The defence lawyer argued that the high court should be approached first as the Supreme Court does not entertain written petition unless the high court has first been approached. The bench of Justices slammed this argument and 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.”
Later, the court gave the judgment by saying, “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,”
While granting bail, the bench of justices allowed the UP government to proceed against Kanojia under the FIR but made it clear that he cannot be put behind the bars.
Similar type of incident was reported earlier this year when West Bengal chief minister, Mamata Banerjee, had put a Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) worker Priyanka Sharma behind bars for making meme against her. Clearly one has to be extremely careful expressing opinions on public platforms so as to not invite the wrath of the leaders whom we elect to solve our problems.