The arrest of Delhi-based journalist Prashant Kanojia last evening by Uttar Pradesh police has sparked outrage online and resulted in a flood of messages on social media platforms under the hashtag #FreePrashantNow and his name, both of which are trending.
As of 4 pm today, over 7,000 tweets had been posted under the hashtag #FreePrashantNow and over 15,000 tweets with his name.
Prashant Kanojia, a freelance journalist, was arrested after a complaint by a police officer in Lucknow, alleging he tried to "malign" the Chief Minister's image.
Mr Kanojia had shared a video on Twitter and Facebook where a woman is seen speaking to reporters of various media organisations outside Yogi Adityanath's office, claiming that she had sent him a marriage proposal.
Many took to Twitter to condemn Mr Kanojia's arrest, with the Editors Guild of India, calling it "high-handed, arbitrary and amounts to an authoritarian misuse of laws".
The Editors Guild of India has issued a statement pic.twitter.com/fdczdNDwyz— Editors Guild of India (@IndEditorsGuild) June 9, 2019
In its statement the Editors Guild said, "Whatever the accuracy of the woman's claims, to register a case of criminal defamation against the journalist for sharing it on the social media and airing it on a television channel is a brazen misuse of law."
The Guild also referenced a recent case in Karnataka and said, "the FIR in this case also not filed by the person allegedly affected but suo moto by the police". The reference was to a case in May in which a FIR was filed against a Kannada daily.
In messages posted today morning, Vakasha Sachdev, whose Twitter bio describes him as the legal editor for news website "The Quint", described Mr Kanojia's arrest as "blatantly illegal", pointing out what he claimed were loopholes in the legal process.
He wrote that first information reports (FIR) under Section 500 of the Indian Penal Code are "non-cognisable, police investigation requires cognisance of offence by a magistrate".
"For cognisance, the complainant has to go to court and submit the complaint, explain the complaint in an oral hearing, only then can the case go anywhere. @PJkanojia was arrested without any of this happening. Technically, the FIR couldn't even have mentioned 500 IPC.".
<1/15> ???? Civil Liberties Alert ????— Vakasha Sachdev (@VakashaS) June 9, 2019
Here's why @PJkanojia 's arrest is blatantly illegal.
FIR under Section 500 IPC (defamation) and Section 66 IT Act (damage to a computer system)
500 IPC is non-cognisable, police investigation requires cognisance of offence by a magistrate. pic.twitter.com/NKhAlqrkPa
Mr Kanojia has been charged with criminal defamation and making statements causing "public mischief".
<2/15> For cognisance, the complainant has to go to court and submit the complaint, explain the complaint in an oral hearing, only then can the case go anywhere. @PJkanojia was arrested without any of this happening. Technically, the FIR couldn't even have mentioned 500 IPC.— Vakasha Sachdev (@VakashaS) June 9, 2019
Mr Sachdev also questioned the suitability of applying Section 66 of the IT Act, which he said "deals with fraudulently/dishonestly damaging a computer system. The FIR clearly says the complaint refers to @Pjkanojia 's "Twitter social media". So how could this possibly be relevant?""
<3/15> Section 66 of the IT Act deals with fraudulently/dishonestly damaging a computer system (defined in Section 43, see images)— Vakasha Sachdev (@VakashaS) June 9, 2019
The FIR clearly says the complaint relates to @PJkanojia 's "Twitter social media".
So how could this possibly be relevant? pic.twitter.com/541jdi9JxK
Congress Rajya Sabha member Abhishek Singhvi also tweeted, describing the detention as "illegal, arbitrary and a grave miscarriage of justice".
The detention of #PrashantKanojia for merely posting a video which fell foul of actors of State government is illegal, arbitrary and a grave miscarriage of justice. Would request the Allahabad High Court to take suo Motu cognizance of the matter.— Abhishek Singhvi (@DrAMSinghvi) June 9, 2019
"...arrest is abuse of law," tweeted Siddharth Varadarajan, Founding Editor of The Wire where Mr Kanojia has worked in the past.
Now consider danger of @uppolice using IPC 500 (criminal defamation). If the 'crime' is to be pursued by cops without @myogiadityanath filing complaint like an ordinary citizen, & you can be whisked away, then it's farewell to free speech in UP & India #ReleasePrashantKanojia 3/3— Siddharth (@svaradarajan) June 9, 2019
Senior journalist Sagarika Ghose hit out at what she called a "grossly undemocratic criminal defamation law (that) needs to be junked NOW".
Grossly undemocratic criminal defamation law needs to be junked NOW. Arresting Prashant Kanojia for relaying information about a VIP chief minister and exercising his right to free speech is yet another misuse of this grotesque law by police and politicians. #FreePrashantNow— Sagarika Ghose (@sagarikaghose) June 9, 2019
During a debate on the channel on June 6, the woman, whose video was shared by Prashant Kanojia, had allegedly made defamatory statements against Adityanath, the police said. They were arrested after workers affiliated to a political party approached the police with a complaint against the news channel for broadcasting the claims of the woman without verifying facts, a senior official said.
"This could have led to a possible law and order situation," police officer Vaibhav Krishna said.
"If an arrest is outside the law... then it's a kidnapping," Supreme Court advocate Karuna Nandy tweeted.
If an arrest is outside the law, not even a bonafide mistake of law, then it's a kidnapping.— Karuna Nundy (@karunanundy) June 8, 2019
Poet and activist Meena Kandasamy said "it is crazy how little can land you jail in India".
Editors Guild of India condemns arrest of journalists Prashant Kanojia, Ishita Singh, and Anuj Shukla. It is crazy how little can land you in jail in India when you are just doing your job as a journalist. Shame pic.twitter.com/ZKOt4T2ncshttps://t.co/Js5c8JgeEa— meena kandasamy (@meenakandasamy) June 9, 2019
Prashant Kanojia's arrest has also stirred up a debate online over what is seen as dwindling press freedom in the country, with JNU student leader Umar Khalid saying,
India ranks 140 out of 180 countries on the global press freedom index. This sorry state of affairs is because we have allowed our government(s) to hound and target journalists, like @PJkanojia#FreePrashantNow— Umar Khalid (@UmarKhalidJNU) June 9, 2019
Jignesh Mevani, a state legislator from Gujarat, criticised Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, who he said had "yet again displayed BJP's complete disdain for free speech and dissent".
The arrest of #PrashantKanojia is a massive abuse of power and force by the UP government. CM Yogi Adityanath has yet again displayed BJP's complete disdain for free speech and dissent, which are the bedrocks of any democracy. #FreePrashantNowhttps://t.co/sRWQbrcAZ3— Jignesh Mevani (@jigneshmevani80) June 9, 2019
In a separate case, Ishika Singh, who heads private news channel Nation Live, and Anuj Shukla, its editor, were arrested in Noida on Saturday evening.
During investigation, it was also found that the Noida-based channel did not have any licence to operate, the police said. An additional complaint over the alleged illegal operation of the channel was made by a district official in Noida.
"They have been arrested on both counts for the defamatory content as well as illegal operation of the channel," the police officer told news agency PTI.
The channel's version was not immediately available.