Jailed for a Month Over Tweet, Prashant Kanojia High Court Bail Plea to Now Come Up After 4 Weeks

On Monday, the Uttar Pradesh government sought four weeks to respond to the journalist's bail appeal and the Allahabad high court granted them that time.

New Delhi: Freelance journalist Prashant Kanojia, arrested by the Uttar Pradesh police on August 18 and held in custody since then over a tweet, will have to spend another month in jail as the Allahabad high court accepted the UP government’s request that it be given four weeks to respond to his bail plea.

Kanojia was earlier denied bail by the sessions court in Lucknow and had moved the high court on September 8. When his case came up before Justice Dinesh Kumar Singh of the Lucknow bench on Monday, the judge ordered that the matter be listed four weeks hence.

In an FIR registered by the Hazratganj police station in Lucknow on August 17, the police had alleged that Kanojia’s tweet threatened law and order. The FIR states:

“Today, on 17/08/2020, while on official duty, we found that on Twitter and WhatsApp, a Facebook post taken from Sushil Tiwari of Hindu Army was morphed with the intent to defame Sushil Tiwari. Prashant Kanojia wrote, “It is Tiwari Ji’s direction that entry for SC/ST/OBC be banned in the Ram Mandir and everybody should raise their voice for this.”

“This was being circulated as a screenshot of Sushil Tiwari’s post. The viral screenshot of his social media message has been attached here. This kind of objectionable post will result in disturbing communal harmony, create tension between different communities and can hurt religious feelings, which can threaten law and order.”

Further, it said, “I request you to register an FIR against this and take action.”

The origins of the case lie in a Facebook post by a Hindutva activist, Sushil Tiwari, head of the self-styled ‘Hindu Army’, in which he posted a photograph of himself with the words – ‘UPSC se Islamic Study turant hatakar Vedic Study joda jai, sabhi log ek saath avaaz uthayein‘ (Let everyone demand that the UPSC remove Islamic Study and add Vedic Study’.

‘Hindu Army’ leader Sushil Tiwari’s Facebook post.

Unknown persons began circulating this image with changed wording: ‘Ram mandir mein Shudron, OBC, SC, ST ka pravesh nishedh rahega sabhi log ek saath avaaz uthayein‘, i.e. ‘Let everyone demand that Shudras, OBC, SC, ST not be allowed entry into the Ram mandir’.

Police allege that Kanojia tweeted this morphed image and have invoked invoked nine sections of the Indian Penal Code against him.

These are 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony), 153B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national-integration), 420 (cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property), 465 (punishment for forgery), 468 (forgery for purpose of cheating), 469 (forgery for purpose of harming reputation), 500 (punishment for defamation), 500 (1)(B) (with intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public, or to any section of the public whereby any person may be induced to commit an offence against the State or against the public tranquility), and 505(2) (statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes).

Though Tiwari’s original message – which targeted Islam – would also appear to fall within the ambit of the most serious charges slapped on Kanojia – Sections 153A, 153B and 505(2) – the police have not proceeded against him even though it is established that he created and put into circulation this particular message.

There are also several of Tiwari’s videos in circulation which contain inflammatory and communal messages against Muslims.

Kanojia was arrested last year as well, for a tweet that the UP police claimed had insulted chief minister Yogi Adityanath.

Supreme Court had ordered bail in earlier case

In that case, the Supreme Court ordered him released on bail immediately. In their order, the bench of Justices Indira Banerjee and Ajay Rastogi rejected the argument that Kanojia had no right to move the apex court directly instead of first going to the Allahabad high court, as UP government counsel contended:

Article 32 which is itself a fundamental right cannot be rendered nugatory in a glaring case of deprivation of liberty as in the instant case, where the jurisdictional magistrate has passed an order of remand … which means that … Prashant Kanojia would be in custody for about 13/14 days for putting up posts/tweets on the social media.

During the hearing, the bench had observed:

“The court need not comment on the contents of the tweets. The question is, should the petitioner have been deprived of his liberty over them. The answer to that is prima facie in the negative. Fundamental rights under Article 19 and 21 are non-negotiable.”

Kanojia worked as a reporter for The Wire Hindi from 2016 to 2018.