Prashant Kanojia’s illegal arrest by UP police is telling of a govt bent on gag orders

Written by Sabrangindia | Published on: June 10, 2019

Prashant Kanojia, an independent journalist, was arrested by the Uttar Pradesh police for allegedly tweeting critical posts against Yogi Adityanath, the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister. UP police also arrested Ishita Singh, head of Nation Live, a local channel and one of its editor AnujShukla, for airing the footage of a woman making some claims about Yogi Adityanath, and allegedly propagating defamatory content.


Prashant Kanojia, Yogi Adityanath
 
New Delhi: When PrashantKanoija, a journalist based in Delhi put out a tweet mocking the UP CM Yogi Adityanath, it may have been sarcastic, funny or even with the intention of trolling or mocking. The subsequent police action against him was anything but.
 
The Uttar Pradesh Police arrested him in Delhi after a case was filed against him on Saturday for comments made about Chief Minister Adityanath on social media.
 
A first information report was registered against Kanojia by a sub-inspector at Hazratganj police station on Friday night alleging that the accused made comments “maligning the image of the chief minister”. The case was filed under Section 500 of the Indian Penal Code, which relates to punishment for defamation, and Section 66 of the Information Technology Act, which refers to computer-related offences.
 
A press statement released by the police on Saturday additionally mentioned Section 67 of the Information Technology Act, which relates to publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form, and Section 505 of the IPC, which penalises statements conducing to public mischief.
 
PrashantKanojia’s wife has moved the Supreme Court's vacation bench comprising of Justices Indira Banerjee and Ajay Rastogiwhich will hear on Tuesday the habeas corpus petition filed by advocate on record ShadanFarasat.
 
The case was mentioned on Monday in the court by senior advocate NityaRamakrishnan before the vacation bench and the bench shall hear the arguments at length on Tuesday.
 
Journalists familiar with Kanojia pointed to a tweet, in which a woman is seen claiming to want to marry Adityanath, as the one that the Uttar Pradesh Police had taken objection to. In the video that Kanojia shared, a woman is seen speaking to reporters outside the chief minister’s office claiming that she had been talking to Adityanath over video chat and had sent a marriage proposal to him.


 
Almost all provisions of the CrPc and the IPC were reportedly violated in the arrest of Kanojia.The FIR itself is legally untenable. Both Section 66 of the Information Technologies Act and Section 500 of the IPC are inapplicable to the facts of the present case.
 
Action for criminal defamation can be taken only on a private complaint filed before a Magistrate. As per Section 41 CrPC, arrest without warrant can be made only in relation to cognizable offences.
 
report by Live Law has recounted in detail how Kanojia’s arrest by the UP police was illegal in every way.
 
Kanojia was a former journalist at The Wire Hindi. “The fact that cops sent PrashantKanojia to jail till Monday so he will have to move the courts to come out proves the idea is to intimidate and gag not just the media but the wider public,” SiddharthVardarajan, the founding editor of The Wire, said on Sunday.


 
Senior Superintendent of Police, Lucknow, KalanidhiNaithani said Kanojia had made objectionable comments on social media and spread rumours. Naithani said that police had arrested Kanojia on the basis of evidence, and that he had confessed to the crime. Confession made by accused in police custody has no evidentiary value and it is being seen a UP police’s attempt at swaying the public opinion.
 
IO Mishra, when asked whether the statement of the woman in the video had been recorded, said: “The case has been lodged against PrashantKanojia for making objectionable comments, so there is no need to record the statement of the woman whose video the accused had uploaded.”
 
The woman in the video, however, claimed a police team had visited her home on Saturday morning and recorded her statement. “I told police officials what I was telling everyone so far,” she said on Saturday evening.
 
Two more journalists from a TV channel were also arrested. Noida Police on Saturday arrested Ishita Singh, head of Nation Live, the local channel that aired the footage of the woman, and one of its editors, AnujShukla, for allegedly propagating defamatory content.
 
An FIR has been registered under IPC Sections 505(1) (publication or circulation of statement, rumour or report with intent to incite), 501 (printing or engraving matter known to be defamatory) and 153 (provocation with intent to cause riot) at Noida Phase 3 police station, an officer said.
 
Police said the content was not verified before it was broadcast and could have affected law and order. Police also claimed they had found that the channel did not have a licence to operate as a news channel, and that a case of cheating and fraud too, has been registered at Phase 3 police station against the accused.
 
In the case of PrashantKanojia, Ishika Singh and AnujShukla, UP DGP O P Singh said, “All three accused have been sent to judicial custody.”
 
Amidst these arrests, another case was lodged in Fatehpur district on Saturday night against 30-year-old Raju Singh Yadav who allegedly uploaded on his Facebook account morphed photographs of the CM and the Kanpur-based woman at the centre of the video row.
 
Govind Singh, officiating Station Officer of Asothar police station in Fatehpur, said the complaint was lodged by 'social worker' Gaurav Singh who belongs to Raju’s village and is Raju’s ‘friend’ on Facebook.
 
The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear the petition filed by the wife of journalist PrashantKanojia challenging his arrest by UP police for objectionable tweets against Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
 
Kanojia’s wife JagishaArora said, “We don’t know the woman in the video. It’s sarcasm and that’s not a crime… Will the police arrest everyone who questions the government? I stand by his right to post anything on social media.”
 
According to Jagisha, four people in civilian dress came to their house in Vinod Nagar, near Akshardham, and identified themselves as Uttar Pradesh police. However, the cops could not furnish an arrest warrant when Prashant asked for the same, Jagisha said.
 
Prashant’s colleagues have questioned UP police’s way of action. “Why didn’t UP police accompany Delhi Police? At least they should have furnished arrest warrant to the family. If an FIR was already filed, they need not come in civilian dress. They should have come in uniform and informed the family about the same,” his colleagues complained.
 
“In November last, KishorechandraWangkhem, an anchor-editor with a Manipur channel ISTV, was arrested for a video post criticising the BJP-led government and Chief Minister Biren Singh. After a court let him off, he was booked again, under the National Security Act, in December. It fell to his wife to take up cudgels in defence of not only her husband but also freedom of expression. While Wangkhem’s video may have been provocative and berated the chief minister, there was nothing in it that endangered national security or public order to justify his being arrested under the draconian NSA,” ShastriRamachandaran wrote in Outlook.
 
“It is not as if journalists outside BJP turf are safe. Even those with a soft spot for the BJP risk facing police action and political persecution if they take the liberty of tilting at the powers that be. AbhijitIyer-Mitra spent 43 days in jail following his arrest on October 23 for his admittedly “distasteful remarks” in tweets against the Konarak Sun Temple and Puri’sJagannath temple; and taunts that the rossogolla was of Bengali, and not Odiya, origin. The BJD’s hounding of Mitra shows that Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, after four terms in office, is perhaps still insecure and, therefore, intolerant of journalists who cannot be made to fall in line,” he added.
“There are many such cases, including the unrelenting persecution by successive regimes, for instance, of Telugu writer and poet VaravaraRao who is now targeted as an ‘Urban Naxalite,’” he wrote.
 
Condemning the arrests of three journalists over alleged objectionable content related to Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath, the Editors Guild of India on Sunday described the police action as authoritarian misuse of laws.



 
The media associations took out a protest march against the arrest of Kanojia and other journalists on Monday from Press Club to Parliament.


 
"We, the undersigned Media Organisations, express our collective outrage and shock at the manner in which freelance journalist PrashantKanojia, as well as Ishita Singh and AnujShukla, editor and head of the Nation Live TV channel have been arrested by UP Police," Indian Women's Press Corps (IWPC), Press Club of India (PCI), South Asian Women in the Media (SAWM, India), Press Association said in a joint statement.
 
"The action taken by the UP Police against these three journalists is a clear case of administrative overreach and excessive in proportion by way of application of law. As media-persons, it is our firm belief that journalists ought to conduct themselves responsibly, yet at the same time, we feel that criminal provisions of the defamation law should be taken off the statute books, given their repeated use against journalists and others," they said in the statement. 
 
The Network For Women In Media issued a statement demanding the immediate release of three journalists, meanwhile #FreePrashantNow is trending on Twitter.
 
Full text of the statement:
 
NWMI Demands Immediate Release of PrashantKanojia, Ishita Singh and AnujShukla
 
The Network of Women in Media, India condemns the arrest of PrashantKanojia, Ishita Singh and AnujShukla.
 
PrashantKanojia is an independent journalist, arrested by the Uttar Pradesh police for allegedly tweeting critical posts against Yogi Adityanath, the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister. The police have claimed that the tweets 'malign the image' of Adityanath.
 
On June 8, 2019, Prashant was picked up from his house in Delhi by police in plain clothes and taken to Lucknow. He was initially charged under Section 500 and Section 66 of the IT Act. No warrant was presented at this time. Later, more charges were added.
 
UP police also arrested Ishita Singh, head of Nation Live, a local channel and one of its editor AnujShukla, for airing the footage of a woman making some claims about Yogi Adityanath, and allegedly propagating defamatory content.
 
The police issued a warning in a press release the same evening asking people not 'to write things on social media that disturb the law and order.'
 
The fact that the three were picked up on a weekend when courts are shut and the procedure to get bail becomes difficult, is a clear indicator that the police's intention is to harass him further, thereby denying him access to justice. 
 
The above arrests are a serious clampdown on not just his fundamental rights but also the constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and expression. It is also an indicator that the UP government is intolerant of dissent and selective in addressing crimes.
 
The arrests of the three journalists once again raises major concerns over the blatant subversion of the system of law enforcement and selective use of laws despite the fact that press freedom has been recognised as part of freedom of speech and expression under the Constitution. Journalists are increasingly becoming victims of arbitrary arrests, illegal detentions and harassment.
 
It also demonstrates the lack of political will to create a climate for free expression and tolerance of dissenting views. This is a blatant attempt to promote self-censorship, as it could act as a deterrent to journalists from speaking truth to power.
 
We demand:
 
Immediate release of PrashantKanojia, Ishita Singh and AnujShukla 
Dropping of all charges against them
A credible investigation into the misuse of laws against journalists
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