New Delhi, June 11: The Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered the immediate release of freelance journalist, Prashant Kanojia, who was arrested over allegedly defamatory tweets on Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. "We don't appreciate his tweets but he cannot be put behind bars," the apex court said. Kanojia was arrested from his Delhi residence on Saturday.
Kanojia, who previously worked for The Wire, was picked by the Uttar Pradesh Police for allegedly uploading a video on Twitter in which a woman is heard making some claims about Adityanath. His formal arrest was shown from Lucknow. Kanojia's wife, Jagisha Arora, on Monday, moved the apex court challenging the action of the state police and sought issuance of Habeas Corpus. After Three Journalists, UP Police Arrest Another Person For 'Defaming' Yogi Adityanath.
Advocate Nithya Ramakrishnan on Monday mentioned the matter before a bench of Justices Indira Banerjee and Ajay Rastogi on behalf of Arora and sought urgent hearing terming the arrest "illegal and unconstitutional". Granting bail to Kanojia, the Supreme Court said that "liberty of a citizen is sacrosanct and non-negotiable".
"A person's liberty is being curtailed. Opinions may vary and perhaps such things should not have been posted, but arrest? Under what provision has he been arrested?" Justice Indira Banerjee asked. Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Vikramjit Banerjee, representing the Uttar Pradesh government, said Kanojia was arrested under Section 505 because he made "very strong and very inflammatory" tweets.
Seeking dismissal of Arora's petition, Banerjee said Kanojia has been remanded to judicial custody by Magistrate. "Law is this that once there is a judicial order their remedy is to challenge the judicial order and the writ for habeas corpus cannot be filed," he argued. "If there is deprivation of personal liberty, Supreme Court can interfere," the two-judge bench responded.
The top court also questioned why Kanojia was sent to custody till June 22. "June 22? He's remanded for 11 days? Is this a murder charge?" the court asked to which the ASG responded that the order can be challenged in a lower court. "The court does not ordinarily entertain Article 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?" Justice Banerjee said.
Apart from Kanojia, Ishika Singh, head of a Noida-based news channel, and Anuj Shukla, one of the editors of the channel, were also arrested for allegedly making “objectionable comments” and “propagating defamatory content” against Yogi Aditynath. The arrests triggered a debate on freedom of expression with Editor's Guild calling it an "effort to intimidate" the media.