New Delhi: Nearly 1,000 scholars and activists have signed a statement condemning the arrest of journalist Prashant Kanojia in Uttar Pradesh last month, saying the decision is “politically motivated and driven by vendetta”.
The signatories include scholars from IIT, JNU, IIM and premier international institutions like the universities of Oxford, Columbia, and Johns Hopkins, besides the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at University of London. Some of the prominent signatories are Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani, political activist Kavita Krishnan, poet Meena Kandasamy, activist Teesta Setalvad and student activist and writer Gurmehar Kaur.
Kanojia was arrested on 18 August for a tweet that, according to the FIR filed by the UP Police, could create tension between communities and threaten law and order.
On 10 August, Sushil Tiwari, a member of a fringe outfit named Hindu Army, had shared a Facebook post saying Vedic Studies should replace Islamic studies in the UPSC syllabus. The FIR alleges that Kanojia tweeted a morphed version of the post, with the intent of defaming Tiwari.
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.'”
The statement, which is being circulated on social media, describes Kanojia’s arrest as an attack on free speech and part of a “larger pattern” of the Uttar Pradesh government to “silence dissenting voices”. It notes that when Kanojia found out that the tweet in question was fake news, he deleted it. “This is a routine social media behaviour that one observes on the platform almost every day,” it states.
The statement points out that Kanojia is an outspoken Bahujan with a substantial following who has consistently raised issues of caste-based violence and therefore “his arrest has to be seen as an attack on the anti-caste activists”. It further says that the Uttar Pradesh government needs to be held accountable “for attempting to create this ‘chilling effect’ by intimidating and silencing its critics”.
“We, the undersigned, condemn these intimidation and harassment tactics of the Uttar Pradesh government and demand Kanojia’s early and timely release”, concludes the statement.
Nine sections of IPC invoked against Kanojia
On the basis of Kanojia’s tweet, police have invoked nine sections of the Indian Penal Code against him.
These include Section 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), Section 469 (forgery for purpose of harming reputation), Section 505(1)(b) (with intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public where a person may be induced to commit an offence against the State or against the public tranquility).
Kanojia’s partner Jagisha Arora posted a video on Twitter Monday, where she spoke about his arrest and appealed to people to join the Twitter trend #ReleasePrashantKanojia. Arora also asked for help with respect to his legal aid as she had encountered difficulties.
इस वीडियो के माध्यम से मैं प्रशांत कनौजिया की साथी जागीशा आप सब से अपील करती हूँ कि आप सब प्रशांत का साथ दे. प्रशांत हर मौके पर शोषितों और वंचितों की लड़ाई लड़ते आए है और आज समय है उनका साथ देने का. आइए आज शाम 4 बजे ट्विटर ट्रेंड पर मिलते है. उनके लिए लिखते है. उनका साथ देते है. pic.twitter.com/Eeebw2jfdV
— Prashant Kanojia (@PJkanojia) September 28, 2020
On 21 September, the Allahabad High Court accepted the Uttar Pradesh government’s request for four more weeks to respond to Kanojia’s bail plea, which means that the journalist will remain in detention for another month.
This is not the first time Kanojia has had run-ins with state police. An FIR was filed against him earlier this year for making “objectionable remarks about Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on social media”. In 2019, he was picked up from his Delhi residence for a post he shared about a woman who claimed she wanted to marry the UP Chief Minister.