NEW DELHI: Coming to the rescue of freelance journalist Prashant Kanojia, the Supreme Court on Tuesday directed the Uttar Pradesh government to release him immediately on bail.
He was arrested for posting an 'offensive' tweet on CM Yogi Adityanath.
Pulling up the state government for Kanojia’s arrest, a vacation bench of Justices Indira Banerjee and Ajay Rastogi said, “We do not appreciate the tweet of the journalist but how can he put behind the bars? Liberty of citizen is sacrosanct and non-negotiable. It is guaranteed by the constitution and it cannot be infringed.”
The court also asked the state government why was he arrested and under what provisions, apart from directing his release immediately.
The top court made it clear that the proceedings against the journalist will go on as per the law.
The bench observed that even courts have to bear the brunt of social media.
"Sometimes even we have to suffer the brunt of social media. Sometimes it is just and sometimes it is unjust but we have to exercise our powers," the bench said.
It also allowed the UP government to proceed against the scribe as per the FIR but not by putting him behind bars.
The observation from the bench came on a plea moved by Kanojia's wife Jagisha Arora which stated that the arrest was illegal and unconstitutional.
Additional Solicitor General Vikramjit Banerjee, appearing for the Uttar Pradesh government, said the petition cannot be entertained as the accused is in judicial custody.
To this the bench said, "The law is very clear. A person cannot be deprived of his rights. Even if it is an Article 32 petition, the Supreme Court can entertain it. The Supreme Court can't keep its hands folded when there is deprivation of right to liberty."
The bench also questioned the magistrate’s order that had sent Kanojia to 11 days police remand and said, “Have you ever come across an 11-day remand? Sit behind the bars day after day and challenge the order? That is not a very fair stand.”
The ASG then contended that the proceedings in the case should not be quashed or set aside.
To this, the bench said it is certainly not quashing the proceedings in the case and it will go on in accordance with the law.
"Certainly granting bail would not mean approving his tweets/posts on social media and our remarks would not affect the court proceedings, which will go on in accordance with the law," it said.
UP government however produced series of tweets by Kanojia to the bench to show that he has also made tweets about gods and goddesses, apart from political figures, while saying that his tweets are very strong, very inflammatory.
On this, the bench said, “A citizen's right to liberty has been infringed. We have gone through the records. Opinions may vary, this sort of thing should not have been published. But why arrest? Law is very clear indeed. A person cannot be deprived of his personal liberty. A person can't spend 11 days behind bars.”
"It is not the approval of the action of the journalist but it is the disapproval of the state's action which deprives citizen's right to liberty," it added.
It asked the state government to show magnanimity and release the journalist on bail.
The ASG requested the court to clarify in its order that it does not accord approval to the tweets or posts made by the journalist on social media.
"Don't worry about what is being written or construed on social media. Nowadays people are knowledgeable and aware and they know in what context things are being said," the bench said.
An FIR was registered against Kanojia at Hazratganj police station in Lucknow in which UP Police alleged that the accused made objectionable comments against the CM and tried to malign his image.
Kanojia had shared a video on Twitter and Facebook where a woman is seen speaking to reporters of various media organisations outside the CM's office, claiming that she had sent a marriage proposal to Adityanath.
(With PTI inputs)