UPpressive: Arrest of scribe by Yogi smacks of authoritarianism

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Published: June 11, 2019 12:55:51 AM

However, while Section 66 requires that certain conditions be fulfilled for making an arrest without a warrant, the charge doesn't even seem relevant in Kanojia's case.

Prashant Kanojia (Source: Facebook/Prashant Kanojia)Prashant Kanojia (Source: Facebook/Prashant Kanojia)

The arrest of three journalists and two others on assorted charges for “objectionable content” relating to Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath is patently unlawful and amounts to a draconian misuse of laws and arrest powers by the state. Independent journalist Prashant Kanojia had shared, with an off-colour comment, a news report featuring a woman claiming to be in a relationship with the Uttar Pradesh chief minister—Ishita Singh and Anuj Shukla of Nation Live, a news-channel that broadcast the woman’s claims, along with Kanojia, were arrested by UP Police. Kanojia, as per the FIR in the matter, has been charged with criminal defamation, a non-cognisable offence, and under Section 66 of the IT Act, a cognisable offence, that relates to fraudulently/dishonestly damaging a computer system. However, while Section 66 requires that certain conditions be fulfilled for making an arrest without a warrant, the charge doesn’t even seem relevant in Kanojia’s case. And, while a defamation complaint, as per the law, has to be filed by a private aggrieved party before a Magistrate, the UP Police, in this case, took suo motu cognisance of Kanojia’s and the others’ “offence”. What’s worse, following the outrage over the arrests, UP Police issued a statement that adds charges under Section 505 of IPC, pertaining to the restriction of the freedom of speech on the grounds of public order and Section 67 of the IT Act that deals with electronic transmission of obscene material—perhaps in a bid to make the arrest look credible retrospectively, since both charges are cognisable—but these, too, don’t hold much water. Little in Kanojia’s tweet threatens public order or can be deemed obscene, even if it is distasteful.

The summary arrest over the content smacks of blatant abuse of power. In recent times, ruling parties across the political spectrum have displayed such draconian tendencies, from Manipur arresting a journalist for criticising the PM and the CM to the West Bengal Police arresting an opposition party worker for sharing a meme featuring CM Mamata Banerjee, and Karnataka CM threatening a law against journalists for unpalatable news. Such heavy-handedness of the state not only endangers individuals’ fundamental freedoms but also erodes public trusts in law enforcement. Even if a genuine offense, of the nature the UP Police believes, did occur, due process can’t be given the short-shrift. This is not only illiberal, but seems downright authoritarian.

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