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What you need to know:

  • Journalist Prashant Kanojia released on bail.
  • The Supreme Court of India says that it can’t deny “liberty”.
  • Kanojia was arrested for posting comments on Twitter against Yogi Adityanath. 

Dubai: The Supreme Court of India today, ordered the immediate release of journalist Prashant Kanojia on bail. He was arrested by the Uttar Pradesh police for making comments against Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on social media.

What happened?

Kanojia was picked up by Uttar Pradesh police on Saturday June 8, from his house in New Delhi, after he posted a video on Twitter, of a woman who claimed to have a relationship Adityanath.

According to a report by newspaper, The Indian Express, the court clarified that despite Kanojia’s release, “…its order should not be seen as an approval of Kanojia’s social media posts”.

Kanojia’s wife had filed a petition challenging his arrest. As quoted by the Indian broadcast channel NDTV, the court said: “Normally we don’t entertain these type of petitions. But a person can’t spend 11 days in jail…. We may disapprove these tweets but we disapprove the denial of liberty.”

Another report by the channel stated that Kanojia was accused of trying to malign the minister’s image, and was arrested under Section 66 of the Information Act and has been charged of criminal defamation and making statements causing “public mischief”.

Kanojia is the owner and editor of a television channel and according to reports, Ishika Singh, who heads private news channel Nation Live, and Anuj Shukla, its editor, were also arrested.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi also condemned the arrest of Kanojia, and said that Adityanath was “behaving foolishly”, according to reports. Gandhi tweeted about the incident and asked for Kanojia’s release.

Online reactions

The news of the journalist’s arrest and release went viral on social media as tweeps used #SupremeCourt and #PrashantKanojia to discuss the importance of freedom of speech and liberty.

While some users agreed with the decision, others thought Kanojia should be made accountable.

Member of Parliament, Jignesh Mevani (@jigneshmevani80) said: “The arrest of #PrashantKanojia is a massive abuse of power and force by the Uttar Pradesh government. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has yet again displayed BJP’s (Bharatiya Janata Party) complete disdain for free speech and dissent, which are the bedrocks of any democracy...”

Journalist Kanchan Srivastava (@Ms_Aflatoon) posted: “There was so much outrage across India over the arrest of #PriyankaSharma in Bengal for her meme ‘insulting the CM (Chief Minister)’ not much noise over the arrest of #PrashantKanojia in UP for his post ‘insulting the CM’. Why?”

And tweep @SwamiGeetika posted: “This is how ‘journalists’ like Prashant Kanojia misuse journalism to spread rumours and malign India’s image using social media in the name of ‘free press’. It is high time that guidelines should be made for responsible journalism…”

Freedom of expression being silenced?

Many Twitter users also discussed the “hypocrisy” of the Supreme Court, as there have been cases in the past where journalists were picked on because of statements or drawings made by them.

According to a 2018 Gulf News report, journalist Abhijit Iyer Mitra was arrested and jailed in India, in a case that was related to a Twitter conversation about the origin of the Indian dessert rasagola.

In May 2019, Priyanka Sharma, a local BJP youth activist, was also arrested for sharing a viral meme on Facebook, that showed the head of Trinamool leader and state chief minister Mamata Banerjee superimposed on a picture of actress Priyanka Chopra. Sharma was granted bail but was asked to apologise for the post.