India’s Supreme Court has ordered the release of a journalist who was arrested and jailed for tweeting about Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath on Saturday.
Prashant Kanojia had shared a video of a woman who alleged that she had a relationship with Adityanath.
In the clip, she asks whether he would like to “spend the rest of his life with her”.
Police picked him up from his house for “defaming” the chief minister.
Soon after Kanojia posted the tweet, police showed up to his home to arrest him. They claimed that his tweet “defamed” Adityanath.
Two other journalists who work for an Indian television channel, Anuj Shukla and Ishika Singh, were also arrested on Saturday for hosting a discussion that allegedly “maligned” Adityanath. It is not clear if the allegations were over the same video.
And three other people who are not journalists have also been arrested in the state for sharing or posting negative content against Adityanath.
In all, this means six people have been arrested over social media posts about Adityanath in the last three days alone.
Kanojia’s wife Jagisha Arora moved the court against his arrest on Monday.
Kanojia was arrested under Section 500 of the Indian Penal Code for defamation, and Section 66 of the Indian Information Technology Act, which deals with computer related offences that are done “dishonestly or fraudulently.”
“The tweet was highly objectionable and provocative,” former senior police officer Prakash Singh told.”In this country, freedom of speech is being interpreted as a license to abuse, denigrate, rundown, ridicule and insult.”
“There is no provision of arrest under Section 500. First you have to prove your case, then you are summoned. You are not arrested until you have been sentenced. This arrest was a clear abuse of the process of law,” Arjun Sheoran, a lawyer, told BBC.
He added that Section 66 is often used in cases that involve hacking.
“If Adityanath felt the comments were defamatory, he should have filed a case. The accused would have been summoned and then possibly sentenced.”
The court did not mince its words in its order, freeing Kanojia.
“A citizen’s right to liberty has been infringed. We have gone through the records. Opinions may vary, maybe this sort of thing should not have been published,” the Supreme Court said on Tuesday while hearing the petition. “But why arrest? Under what provision has he been arrested for this?”
The court added the journalist had not committed “murder” and added it was very unhappy that he had been made to spend time in jail.
Correspondents say that the court order should pave the way for their release as well.