The Supreme Court today granted bail to journalist Prashant Kanojia, who was arrested for posting 'objectionable comments' on Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath on Twitter.
The vacation bench of Justices Indira Banerjee and Ajay Rastogi said right to liberty, a fundamental right, is non-negotiable but added that the bail does not mean that the court approves of the journalist's tweet.
The bench on Monday took note of a submission made by lawyer Nitya Ramakrishnan who appeared for Kanojia's wife Jagisha Arora.
Kanojia had allegedly shared a video on Twitter and Facebook where a woman is seen speaking to reporters outside the Uttar Pradesh chief minister's office in Lucknow claiming she had sent a marriage proposal to Adityanath.
In the FIR, the Lucknow police had said that Kanojia had made 'objectionable comments to malign' Adityanath.
Arora said the arrest was 'illegal' and 'unconstitutional' and filed a habeas corpus petition. She demanded that Uttar Pradesh police release Kanojia without delay.
In the petition, Arora also sought action against the policemen for arresting Kanojia from Delhi for 'bailable offences'. She also sought 'exemplary damages' for his 'illegal arrest'.
The bench criticised the magistrate for Kanojia’s 11-day judicial remand but it allowed UP police to pursue the case according to the law.
“We don’t appreciate these tweets, but the question is should he be put behind bars?” Justice Banerjee asked Vikramjit Banerjee, the additional solicitor-general (ASG) who appeared for the Uttar Pradesh government.
The state's lawyer then insisted that the case was about Kanojia's past tweets. The FIR, however, had mentioned only 'objectionable comments' by Kanojia on Twitter to malign Yogi Adityanath.
Banerjee slammed the police for “unduly harsh action”. Justifying the addition of Section 505 (public mischief), the additional solicitor-general said Kanojia's tweets were not restricted to politicians but were about gods and goddesses too. “With great liberty comes great responsibility,” he said.
When the ASG argued that Kanojia’s release would be seen as an endorsement of his tweets, Justice Banerjee countered that it “will be an endorsement of his personal liberty”.
Kanojia's wife Jagisha Arora had challenged the arrest and had sought in her plea “exemplary damages”.
“The Hindi journalist was unceremoniously taken away by men in civil dress on June 8 from his Delhi residence. It transpires that on June 7, police officials of Hazaratganj police station at Lucknow had lodged an FIR against him under Sections 500 (criminal defamation) of the IPC and 66 of the Information Technology (IT) Act and both offences are bailable,” the plea had said.
'No arrest memo was prepared, and neither the petitioner, nor her husband, was told why he was being taken (away) and why the 'arresting officials' were in civil dress,' Arora wrote.
Two provisions -- Section 505 (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 the earlier the FIR contained only bailable offences, the plea said.
These penal provisions prescribe maximum jail terms of two and three years, respectively.