Journalist Prashant Kanojia Granted Bail by Supreme Court A Day After Journalists Protest Unconstitutional Arrest
Protests marches may be effective but one has to ask why they take place only for Delhi-based journalists and activists.
New Delhi: On a June 10, a gathering stood outside 1, Raisina Road — the Press Club of India — defying the 46 degree Celsius heat. This motley crew of journalists and activists were protesting the unconstitutional arrest of Prashant Jagdish Kanojia, an independent journalist.
The event, that was attended by several prominent journalists, including Kanojia’s former employers from The Wire — Sidharth Varadarajan and MK Venu — activists and civil society members like Shabnam Hashmi and Professor Apoorvanand, and political activists like Umar Khalid, was a short and peaceful one. A small march around the block was full of slogans like “Yogi sarkar, murdabad. Modi sarkar, murdabad”, “Patrakaron ki azadi par hamla nahi sahenge, nahi sahenge”, and “Yogi sarkar, hosh mein aao”.
On June 6, Kanojia had tweeted a video of a woman who reached Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s residence with a “love letter” and claimed that she has been talking to the CM via “video conferencing” for one year and demanded an in-person meeting. He had written, “Ishq chupta nahi chupane se Yogi ji” — You can’t hide love even if you try.
Ishq chupta nahi chupaane se yogi ji pic.twitter.com/dPIexKheou
— Prashant Jagdish Kanojia (@PJkanojia) June 6, 2019
On June 7, Kanojia’s humorous comment — some have even called it flippant — cost him far more than he expected. He was arrested after a sub-inspector in Lucknow’s Hazratganj Police Station filed a complaint against him, alleging that he tried to “malign” Adityanath’s image. The FIR against him was filed under Sections 500 (Punishment for defamation) of the Indian Penal Code and 66 of the Information Technology Act (Punishment for sending offensive messages through communication service).
Speaking to the media outside the Press Club, Jagisha Arora, Kanojia’s wife, said, “Prashant had gone outside to get something, around 12. When he came back upstairs, he was accompanied by two people. They were standing outside. Prashant entered and told me the cops are taking him.”
“This is illegal detention. He’s a journalist. In the last five years, we have seen how journalists have been harassed — even killed. I was afraid for Prashant. Two people in plainclothes took him away. Anything could have happened… The police were unwilling to give us any information. We did not even know the name of the SHO (Station House Officer). We did not know where he was detained. What I am most worried about is what the police is doing to him,” added a visibly tired and distressed Jagisha.
Varadarajan and Hashmi said that the immediate demands included the charges against Kanojia be dropped immediately. Addressing the defamation suit, Varadarajan said, “Regrettably the Supreme Court hasn’t abolished defamation. Had it done so, we would not see its rampant misuse.”
He added that what the U.P. police did was illegal. He said, “It was for Adityanath to file a complaint and a magistrate to take cognisance of that. This is also not a crime for which you get arrested. If you are convicted, you can spend one year in jail. But this is not a crime, on the mere allegation of which, you can pick up somebody and lock them up over the weekend.”
Per Hashmi, “Lot of laws need to be struck down — the sedition law, criminal defamation. We need to relook at laws and how they are used to curb the democratic freedoms of citizens.”
Dr Kafeel Khan, the lecturer from Gorakhpur who was arrested in connection with deaths of infants at BRD Medical College in August 2017, and later granted bail, shares a boat with Kanojia. Both have faced the wrath of Yogi Adityanath and have been unfairly treated by the state machinery. Empathising with Kanojia’s situation, he tells NewsCentral24x7, “This is the way they want to stop you from speaking. A lot of people ask me if I was framed by Yogi for being a Muslim man. The fact is, however, that he would have done this to anyone. They want to stop the truth from coming out at any cost.”
On June 11, a day after the protest, the Supreme Court granted bail to Kanojia. A vacation bench, comprising Justices Indira Banerjee and Ajay Rastogi, said Right to Liberty, a fundamental right, is non-negotiable as it granted bail. However, the bench said granting bail does not mean that it approves of the journalist’s tweets or posts on social media.
The Bigger Picture
An unsaid but observable phenomenon that takes place in protests like these is the hegemony of the English media there, even though it is usually the regional, non-English media that is more vulnerable to attack, whether physically or through state machinery. In a recent piece in The Wire, Mahtab Alam says of the English press that, “threats are relatively different and rare in comparison with non-English and local journalists. Moreover, whenever there is an attack on such journalists, it receives considerable media attention and forces a sense of solidarity amongst peers.”
And solidarity is an important question here. The protest that seemed to focus on Kanojia, and somewhat on Ishita Singh, the head of TV News channel Nation Live and Anuj Shukla, its editor — they were also picked up by the U.P. police for a comment made by a panellist during a debate show on the same topic and have been charged with operating without a license — did not find any mention of Rupesh Kumar Singh, a social activist and independent journalist who works on Dalit and Tribal rights issues, who was arrested around the same time and was allegedly falsely charged with carrying explosives. The police also reportedly dubbed books on Marx and Lenin confiscated from his house as “Naxal literature”.
News anchor and consulting editor at the India Today Group, Rajdeep Sardesai, who was present at the protest march, told NewsCentral24x7, “I have criminal defamation cases against me… Only when it happens to people in and around Delhi, do we come on the streets. My bigger problem is what happens to a journalist in a small district or town? If this boy was not picked up from Delhi, would we be protesting?”
Hashmi, who believes that the way forward is only solidarity, admits that the attack is more on journalists from the vernacular press. She adds, “There is a larger attack on younger journalists — they are more rebellious.”
She admits, however, that it was odd that Rupesh Kumar Singh’s name was not part of the solidarity movement. “Attacks that are taking place in far off places are not picked up. This (Prashant Kanojia’s case) got picked up because it happened in Delhi. There is a need for greater solidarity,” she said, adding, “We need to be more inclusive and a lot more organisation is required. But this is the reality. A lot of attacks on journalists and activists are ignored. That is the reality.”