New Delhi: Observing that a person could not be put behind bars for 11 days for a social media post, the Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered the release of journalist Prashant Kanojia who was arrested for allegedly defaming Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
Kanojia had shared a video on Twitter and Facebook where a woman is seen speaking to reporters of various media organisations claiming that she had sent a marriage proposal to Adityanath. The court was hearing a habeas corpus petition filed by the journalist's wife, which called his arrest “illegal” and “unconstitutional”. The court, while observing that it was not a murder case, said the case could continue but Kanojia must be released on bail.
The Uttar Pradesh government had handed over copies of the objectionable tweets by Kanojia to the court, maintaining that he was a habitual offender who had also spoken out against gods and religion. The apex court, however, asked the UP government to “show magnanimity”, saying they will intervene “if it is a deprivation of personal liberty”.
“People are intelligent. They know everything put up on social media isn't correct,” the court said while granting relief to the journalist.
The Uttar Pradesh police has so far arrested 11 people for sharing objectionable content against Adityanath. This includes Kanojia; Ishika Singh, head of a Noida-based news channel and Anuj Shukla, one of the editors of the channel.
The move has come under criticism, with Congress chief Rahul Gandhi saying: “If every journalist who files a false report or peddles fake, vicious RSS/BJP sponsored propaganda about me is put in jail, most newspapers/ news channels would face a severe staff shortage.”
The Editors Guild also condemned the move, saying police action "is high-handed, arbitrary and amounts to an authoritarian misuse of laws".