NWMI, Editors Guild question journalists’ arrest, seek immediate release

ITANAGAR, Jun 9: The Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI) has condemned the arrest of journalists Prashant Kanojia, Ishita Singh and Anuj Shukla.
Kanojia is an independent journalist, who was arrested by the Uttar Pradesh police for allegedly tweeting critical posts against Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister of UP. The police have claimed that the tweets – which relate to a woman making allegations about Adityanath – “malign the image” of Adityanath.
Kanojia was picked up by plainclothes policemen from his house in Delhi on 8 June, and taken to Lucknow. He was initially charged under Section 500 IPC and Section 66 of the IT Act. No warrant was presented at that time. Later, more charges were added.
The UP police also arrested Ishita Singh, head of Nation Live, a Noida-based channel, and one of its editors, Anuj Shukla, for airing footage of the woman making claims about Adityanath, and allegedly propagating defamatory content.
The police issued a warning in a press release the same evening, asking people “not to write things on social media that disturb the law and order.”
Equating criticism of the chief minister with disturbing law and order is contrary to freedom of expression in a democracy, the NWMI said in a statement.
The fact that the three were picked up on a weekend when courts are shut and the procedure to get bail becomes difficult, is a clear indicator that the police’s intention is to harass them further, thereby denying them access to justice, it said.
The NWMI has demanded immediate release of Kanojia, Singh and Shukla, dropping of all charges against them, and a credible investigation into the misuse of laws against journalists.
Meanwhile, the Editors Guild also on Sunday condemned the arrest of the journalist, and the editor and head of the television channel over alleged objectionable content related to Adityanath, describing the police action as an “authoritarian misuse of laws” and an effort to intimidate the press.
“The police action is high-handed, arbitrary and amounts to an authoritarian misuse of laws,” the guild said in a statement.
The guild sees it as an effort to intimidate the press and stifle freedom of expression, the statement said.
“Whatever the accuracy of the woman’s claims, to register a case of criminal defamation against the journalists for sharing it on the social media and airing it on a television channel is a brazen misuse of law,” the guild statement said.
As with a recent case in Karnataka that the guild spoke about, the FIR in this case was also not filed by the person allegedly affected, but suo motu by the police, the guild noted.
“This is a condemnable misuse of law and state power,” the statement said.
The Editors Guild had demanded withdrawal of the FIR against the editor of a Kannada daily and its editorial staff for publishing a report about trouble within former prime minister and JDS chief HD Deve Gowda’s family.
According to the complaint filed by Janata Dal (Secular)’s Karnataka secretary SP Pradeep Kumar, the newspaper, Vishwavani, had published a “false report” on 25 May, which created an impression that there was commotion and confusion among Gowda’s grandchildren.
The editor, Vishweshwar Bhat, and the editorial staff were booked on 26 May under Sections 499 (defamation), 406 (criminal breach of trust) and 420 (cheating) of the Indian Penal Code.
The guild also reiterated its demand that the defamation law should be decriminalized.
“The misuse of law in this specific case, as in Karnataka earlier, goes way beyond criminal defamation as many IT Act and Indian Penal Code provisions have been invoked in what looks like a motivated and vindictive action,” the guild said. (With PTI inputs)