India’s SC orders release of journalist held for tweet

India’s apex court on Tuesday ordered that a journalist, who was arrested by Uttar Pradesh police for "defaming" Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, be freed forthwith, saying the fundamental right to liberty is non-negotiable. A vacation bench of the Supreme Court, comprising justices Indira Banerjee and Ajay Rastogi, said the right to liberty was “sacrosanct and non-negotiable” which is guaranteed under the Constitution and cannot be infringed upon.

The apex court was hearing a petition by freelance journalist Prashant Kanojia's wife who challenged her husband’s arrest on Saturday. The petition termed the arrest was "illegal" and "unconstitutional". The journalist's wife Jageesha Arora had filed a habeas corpus (bring the person) petition challenging the arrest of Kanojia.

A total of five people, including Prashant Kanojia, were arrested in two days on the charges of posting allegedly objectionable content about the UP Chief Minister. "It is made clear this order is not construed as an approval of tweets," the Supreme Court said, while hearing Jagisha Arora's petition filed on Monday.

The Editors Guild of India has termed the journalists' arrests as "high-handed and arbitrary" and said it amounted to "authoritarian misuse of laws". Prashant Kanojia, a freelance journalist, was arrested by Uttar Pradesh police in Delhi on Saturday for a tweet that had "objectionable comments" on Yogi Adityanath. Mr Kanojia, was picked up from his home in Delhi after a complaint by a police officer in Lucknow, alleging he tried to "malign" Yogi Adityanath's image.

An FIR was registered against Kanojia by a sub-inspector at the Hazratganj police station in Lucknow on Friday night in which it was alleged that the accused made "objectionable comments against the Chief Minister 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 Yogi Adityanath's office, claiming that she had sent him a marriage proposal.

The head of a private news channel and its editor were also arrested. During a debate on the channel on June 6, the woman, whose video was shared by Kanojia, had allegedly made defamatory statements against Yogi Adityanath, the police said.