New Delhi: The Uttar Pradesh police is struggling to justify its arrest of freelance journalist Prashant Kanojia, since picking him up from his Delhi residence Saturday afternoon for allegedly making “objectionable comments” against Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
The police had initially lodged an FIR against Kanojia under Section 500 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Section 66 of the Information Technology Act for a post he shared about a woman wanting to marry the chief minister.
The woman, seen to be speaking to various TV channels, claimed in the video that she had been conversing with the CM for a long time over video chat, and now wanted to know if he was willing to marry her.
Terming the post as an attempt to the “malign the image of the chief minister”, the UP police slapped the two charges against Kanojia, none of which can justify his arrest.
Section 500 criminalises defamation. It is, however, a non-cognisable offence, which means that the police could not have taken direct cognisance of it by registering the FIR. For such cases, the complainant (the CM in this case) is required to file a complaint before a magistrate and an arrest warrant would have to be issued following that. An arrest without a warrant, as in Kanojia’s case, can only be made in relation to cognisable offences.
On the other hand, Section 66 deals with fraudulently or dishonestly damaging a computer system. The provision clearly does not apply in the case, as the FIR states that the complaint relates to Kanojia’s “Twitter social media”. So while Section 66 is a cognisable offence, the police could not have arrested him on this ground as well.
Backlash prompts cops to add further sections
Faced with public backlash and outrage, the police then issued a press release last evening, claiming that Kanojia violated Sections 500 and 505 of the Indian Penal Code, along with Section 67 of the IT Act. This release also claimed that through his post, Kanojia made “obscene comments” and “spread rumours” on social media.
The release added that Kanojia has accepted his crime after “strict interrogation”.
This face-saving exercise, however, also seems to have backfired. For one, these provisions cannot be retrospectively applied to the arrest, which was made on the basis of the FIR. And even if this was possible, the newly added provisions do not help the police’s case in any way.
Section 505 IPC deals with “public mischief” and largely criminalises making, publishing or circulating any statement, rumour or report which might disturb public order or tranquility. Section 67 IT Act punishes publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form. One look at the video would go to show that neither were the woman’s claims capable of disturbing public order nor were they obscene.
With none of the legal provisions actually seeming to have been violated by Kanojia, the internet has been abuzz with appeals to release him. The hashtag #ReleasePrashantKanojia has been trending ever since. As for Kanojia, he will have to spend his second night in jail as any relief for him can only come as early as Monday.