Relief for social media users as SC orders Yogi govt to release journalist

Justice Indira Banerjee

The Supreme Court has ordered the Uttar Pradesh government to immediately release jailed journalist Prashant Kanojia. The state will be free to carry on a case against the journalist.

Hearing a plea by wife Jagisha Arora to protect the journalist’s fundamental rights, a two-judge vacation bench comprising Justice Indira Banerjee and Justice Ajay Rastogi did not mince words when seeking details of the judicial procedure that was followed.

Kanojia was arrested yesterday after he shared a video of a woman who made claims, in front of the media, about the personal life of UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.

He was arrested on charges of defamation, and a local court sent him to custody till Jun 22.

The Supreme Court said it normally doesn’t entertain direct petitions under Article 32 — which guarantees the citizens the right to legal remedy to protect his or her fundamental rights. But in this case, said Justice Indira Banerjee, it was making an exception.

“..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,” she told Vikramjit Banerjee, who is an additional solicitor general under the Union law ministry.

She expressed surprise that Kanojia was remanded to 11 days in custody for sharing a video.

“Is this a murder charge,” she asked. “Have you ever come across any case of this manner where 10 days remand is given?”

When the ASG said it was up to the journalist to challenge the order at a superior court, Justice Banerjee said: “Sit behind bars and challenge it? We do not appreciate these tweets but the question is should he be put behind bars?”

ASG Vikramjit Banerjee said any order by the Supreme Court to release Kanojia will be treated as an endorsement of his tweets.

“It will be treated as an endorsement of his personal liberty. Even we hear the brunt on social media but does that mean it should lead to incarceration,” Justice Banerjee replied.

“Liberty is a guaranteed by the Constitution and the fundamental rights are sacrosanct and non negotiable,” she added.

The ruling is likely to come as a relief to social media users in India.

Many state governments have been using drastic sections of Indian law, such as the section against creating communal ill-will and instigating enmity between communities, for throwing social media users behind bars.