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Don't appreciate Prashant Kanojia's tweets but he can't be put behind bars: Supreme Court orders release of journalist

File photo: The Supreme Court of India. Photograph:( Reuters )

WION New Delhi Jun 11, 2019, 11.54 AM (IST) Jessica Taneja

The Supreme Court of India on Tuesday ordered the release of journalist Prashant Kanojia on bail. Kanojia was arrested along with the editor and head of a Noida-based channel objectionable content against Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.

"Even we take a lot in from the social media, but does that mean incarceration? Release him on bail and proceed against him," said a vacation bench comprising Justices Indira Banerjee and Ajay Rastogi. The bench was hearing a Habeas Corpus (requiring an arrested person to be presented before court) petition filed bu Kanojia's wife Jigisha.

"Regardless of the contents of the tweet, it doesn't appear that arrest was warranted. The right to liberty of a citizen has been infringed upon," Justice Banerjee added. Kanojia was arrested on Saturday and lodged in Lucknow jail.

The Uttar Pradesh government defended the arrest and highlighted Kanojia's Twitter timeline. "We had gone through his Twitter timeline. His tweets are not restricted to political figures, he has posted tweets about gods and goddesses. His tweets are very strong and inflammatory. This is why Section 505 (inciting a particular community to commit offence against other community) of the Indian Penal Code was added," the UP government said. Though the bench said that it doesn't agree with Kanojia's tweets, it rejected the argument saying a person cannot be deprived of his personal liberty. "The Uttar Pradesh government can proceed against him, but he can't be put behind bars for his tweets," the bench said.

The bench also warned against posting stuff on Twitter. "It is very wrong to think whatever is uploaded will be swallowed by the public. People are educated," Justice Banerjee said.

The Editors Guild had on Sunday condemned the arrest of Kanojia and others, describing the police action as an "authoritarian misuse of laws" and an effort to intimidate the press.

An FIR was registered against Kanojia at Hazratganj police station in Lucknow on Friday night in which it was alleged that the accused made "objectionable comments against the chief minister and tried to malign his image".