NEW DELHI The Supreme Court Tuesday ordered immediate release of journalist Prashant Kanojia, who was arrested for allegedly making objectionable comments against Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on social media, saying fundamental right to liberty is “sacrosanct” and “non-negotiable”.
The top court also deprecated the journalist for his posts against Adityanath and said it did not approve of them.
A vacation bench, comprising justices Indira Banerjee and Ajay Rastogi, said it is granting bail to the scribe as it disapproves the deprivation of right to liberty by the state.
“A citizen’s right to liberty is sacrosanct and non-negotiable. It is a fundamental right granted under the Constitution and can’t be infringed upon by the state,” the bench said.
Kanojia had allegedly shared a video on Twitter and Facebook wherein a woman is seen speaking to reporters of various media organisations outside the chief minister’s office in Lucknow, claiming that she had sent a marriage proposal to Adityanath.
An FIR was registered against Kanojia by a sub-inspector at the Hazratganj police station in Uttar Pradesh on Friday night in which it was alleged that the accused made “objectionable comments against the CM and tried to malign his image”.
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.
The court was hearing a habeas corpus (bring the person) petition filed by Kanojia’s wife, Jagisha Arora, challenging his arrest.
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 court also questioned the 11-day judicial custody give to the journalist and said, “In the facts of the case, a person can’t be allowed to stand 11 days behind bars”.
“We are not approving what the journalist has tweeted/posted on social media. The person is behind the bars, which is troubling us. He should be immediately released on bail,” the bench said.
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.
“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.
The habeas corpus petition, filed through lawyer Shadan Farasat, has also sought departmental action against the policemen, who were not in uniform, for arresting Kanojia from Delhi for “bailable offences”.
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