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Sedition, defamation, blocking public servant: Laws ‘misused’ to crack down on journalists

Journalist Prashant Kanojia was booked for defamation, among other charges, when he made a Twitter post about Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath.

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New Delhi: When journalist Prashant Kanojia was arrested over a Twitter post directed at Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, the Supreme Court criticised state police for the disproportionate punishment even as it refused to endorse the nature of his post.

For the post, which featured a woman who claimed to be Adityanath’s lover, police invoked sections 500 (criminal defamation) and 505 (statements conducing to public mischief) of the IPC, among others, against Kanojia.

The court ruled that the proceedings initiated against Kanojia will continue, but came down heavily on state police for his arrest.

Kanojia’s arrest, however, was hardly the first time a journalist was slapped with stringent Indian Penal Code (IPC) sections, and punishment disproportionate to the alleged offence at hand, with such crackdowns often following reports that may have riled someone in power.

Vishweshwar Bhat

Last month, Karnataka Police booked Vishweshwar Bhat, the editor-in-chief of the Kannada daily Vishwavani, for publishing a report that claimed Nikhil Kumaraswamy, the son of Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy, had got into a drunken altercation with his grandfather, former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda.

Bengaluru police filed the FIR on the basis of a complaint lodged by Janata Dal (Secular) leader Pradeep Gowda, who claimed the article not only defamed Nikhil but also his grandfather.

The IPC sections invoked in the FIR were 499, 500, 501 (all pertaining to defamation), 504 (intentional insult), 506 (criminal intimidation), 420 (cheating), 406 (criminal breach of trust), and 468 (forgery).

Kamal Shukla

Journalists covering Naxalism-affected areas of Chhattisgarh, including Bastar, reportedly do so under constant government surveillance.

Bastar-based journalist Kamal Shukla, the editor of the newspaper Bhumkal Samachar, is said to be facing multiple charges, including defamation, insult to provoke breach of peace, public mischief and creating religious enmity.

However, in April last year, he was booked under a controversial section often invoked against the government’s critics: Sedition, or Section 124A of the IPC.

His crime? Sharing a cartoon that criticised the Supreme Court’s decision to reject petitions seeking an independent investigation into the 2014 death of CBI judge B.H. Loya. The FIR was filed on a complaint moved by a Rajasthan resident who claimed the cartoon had offended him.

At the time of his death, Loya was hearing the Sohrabbuddin Sheikh fake encounter case. BJP leader Amit Shah was an accused in the case before being discharged by the judge who succeeded Loya.

Also read: A tight slap on ‘Taliban-style’ Yogi govt, says UP opposition as Prashant Kanojia gets bail

Poonam Agarwal

In February 2017, journalist Poonam Agarwal conducted a sting operation with a Kargil war veteran to expose how Army officers made their sahayaks do menial work like walking their dogs.

One of the sahayaks who appeared in the sting video (all faces were blurred) was found dead days after it went viral, allegedly having committed suicide over the fears of a possible court martial.

The Indian Army filed a complaint against Agarwal with Nashik police, following which she was booked under the anti-espionage Official Secrets Act and for abetment to suicide (IPC Section 306).

In April last year, the Bombay High Court quashed the FIR, saying the journalist had done nothing to harm national interest.

Priyanka Borpujari

In December 2017, journalist Priyanka Borpujari turned up in Vakola, Mumbai, during a Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation slum demolition drive.

She was quoted in media reports as saying that she wanted to cover the protest against the drive, while police claimed she was instigating the protesters.

Borpujari was one of five women subsequently detained by Mumbai police and booked under Section 353 of the IPC, which pertains to “assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty”.

Earlier this year, in January, Borpujari was granted anticipatory bail.

Journalist Malini Subramaniam, who was allegedly harassed by police into leaving Bastar over her critical reportage, told ThePrint that “Kanojia’s arrest once again reminds us of the grim situation of free speech’ in India”.

“Journalists have continued to be attacked, threatened and harassed for reporting the truth that has anything to do with the ruling dispensation,” added Subramaniam, one of the collaborators for Free Speech Collective, a body that seeks to protect the right to freedom of expression .

“Opinions that are unpopular with the state do not only get trolled on social media, but the government also unabashedly misuses the IT Act to go after those who share opinions or information,” she said.

Also read: UP Police struggles to justify journo Prashant Kanojia arrest for Yogi tweet, law doesn’t

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  1. The apex court has been kind enough to grant immediate relief in some cases recently. However, with a few caveats. We do not appreciate these tweets. You are free to proceed with a trial. In the case from Calcutta, first an instruction – later rescinded – to Ms Priyanka Sharma to apologise to the CM. Instead, the Supreme Court may be pleased to see the troubling pattern behind this action by the authorities, not be unduly concerned over lack of taste and refinement in criticism. Focus on Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, not worry about the quality of the play.

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