Freelance journalist Prashant Kanojia, who was arrested in a case related to sharing an ‘objectionable’ tweet against Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, was released on bail from the Lucknow Jail on Wednesday, 12 June.
Upon his release, Kanojia said that he has full faith on the Constitution and will speak on the issue of his arrest and related matters after going through the Supreme Court order.
Kanojia, who spent four nights behind the bars, was given bail after furnishing two sureties of Rs 20,000 each and a personal bond for the same amount.
Earlier in the day, a Lucknow court ordered the release of journalist Prashant Kanojia on a bond of Rs 40,000 on Wednesday, 12 June, a day after the Supreme Court asked for his release on bail, according to reports.
The magistrate reportedly cited three conditions for his release:
- Not to repeat the offence again;
- To appear for hearing as and when required; and
- Not to tamper with the evidence.
The Supreme Court on 11 June expressed incredulity at the length of Kanojia’s remand, and said though they do not appreciate his tweets, his judicial custody till 22 June was “not appropriate”.
A vacation bench of Justice Indira Banerjee and Justice Ajay Rastogi heard the plea on Monday, 10 June. "Right to liberty of a citizen has been infringed," said Justice Banerjee, adding that one cannot take for granted that people believe everything uploaded on social media and that there is no basis to believe a post will mislead people.
Questioning Kanojia's arrest, Justice Banerjee said, “We do not appreciate these tweets, but can you put him behind bars for this?” The release will not mean approving of his tweets, as was claimed by the UP lawyer, but will only express disapproval at the incarceration, the apex court said.
‘Can’t Be Sent to Judicial Custody For Social Media Posts’
Regardless of the tweets’ contents, Justice Banerjee called the arrest unwarranted. After the lawyer for UP cited Section 505 for Kanojia's arrest, Justice Rastogi raised doubts about how the provision applied in his case.
Justice Banerjee also said that the judicial order by the magistrate, which remanded him to judicial custody till 22 June, was “not appropriate.”
“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-Prashant Kanojia ought to have been deprived of his liberty for the offence alleged. The answer to that question is prima facie in the negative.”Supreme Court order on Prashant Kanojia
“We are not inclined to sit back on technical grounds. In exercise of power under Article 142 of the Constitution of India this court can mould the reliefs to do complete justice,” the SC order further said.
“The fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution of India and in particular Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India are non-negotiable,” the apex court’s order said, adding that a person couldn’t be sent to judicial custody for so long simply for putting up social media posts.
“However, Article 32 which is itself a fundamental right cannot be rendered nugatory in a glaring case of deprivation of liberty as in the instant case, where the jurisdictional Magistrate has passed an order of remand till 22.06.2019 which means that the petitioner’s husband- Prashant Kanojia would be in custody for about 13/14 days for putting up posts/tweets on the social media.”SC order on Prashant Kanojia
Will Kanojia Approach the HC to Quash the FIR Against Him?
Prashant Kanojia’s wife Jagisha Arora’s lawyers Shadan Farasat and Shruti Narayan spoke to The Quint after the verdict. In response to a question as to whether or not they would file a quashing petition against the FIR, they said that they will take appropriate action, and would try to seek compensation for Kanojia’s arrest.
Arora addressed the media after the judgment and revealed her happiness and hope for Kanojia to be released from jail at the earliest.
Shadan Farasat told The Quint that the court was of the clear view that this kind of high-handed police action is not permissible in a constitutional democracy.
“The proposition cited by the state of UP was incorrect for the simple reason that there are judgments that clearly say that even if a remand order is passed, if it’s an unreasonable remand order, then a habeas corpus petition is still maintainable. But it did not come to us to reply to that.”Shadan Farasat
Kanojia’s wife, Jagisha Arora, had filed a habeas corpus petition (aimed to bring the prisoner to court and supply reason for their detention) to challenge the arrest of Kanojia and had sought a direction to Uttar Pradesh police to set him free without any delay.
In the petition, filed through lawyer Shadan Farasat, the wife of the vernacular scribe has also sought initiation of the departmental action against the policemen, who were not in uniform, for arresting Kanojia from Delhi for allegedly committing “bailable offences”.
The plea has also sought “exemplary damages” for Kanojia for his “illegal arrest”.
Two provisions – Section 505 (statements conducing to public mischief) of the IPC and Section 67 (Punishment for publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form) of the IT Act – were added later as earlier the FIR contained only bailable offences, it said. These penal provisions prescribe maximum sentences of two and three years jail term respectively.
Kanojia had allegedly shared a video on Twitter and Facebook where a woman is seen speaking to reporters of various media organisations outside the chief minister’s office claiming that she had sent a marriage proposal to Adityanath.
An FIR was registered against Kanojia by a sub-inspector at the Hazratganj police station in Uttar Pradesh on Friday, 7 June, night in which it was alleged that the accused made "objectionable comments against the CM and tried to malign his image".