A day after they were arrested for allegedly making “objectionable comments” and “propagating defamatory content” against Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, freelance journalist Prashant Kanojia, Ishika Singh, head of a Noida-based news channel, and Anuj Shukla, one of the editors of the channel, were remanded in judicial custody.
Amidst these arrests, another case was lodged in Fatehpur district on Saturday night against 30-year-old Raju Singh Yadav who allegedly uploaded on his Facebook account morphed photographs of the CM and the Kanpur-based woman at the centre of the video row.
Police said Raju, who belongs to Fatehpur district and works in Mumbai, has been booked under IPC Section 505 (2) (statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes).
On Sunday, police visited Raju’s village in Fatehpur, where they were told that he is in Mumbai. Govind Singh, officiating Station Officer of Asothar police station in Fatehpur, said the complaint was lodged by “social worker” Gaurav Singh who belongs to Raju’s village and is Raju’s ‘friend’ on Facebook.
Fatehpur Superintendent of Police Kailash Singh said, “Raju Singh Yadav had uploaded morphed photos of the CM and also made derogatory remarks against the CM. We are seeking the help of the Special Task Force to arrest the accused. A team will be sent to Mumbai to trace him.”
Read | ‘Brazen misuse of law’: Editors Guild condemns arrest of journalists for ‘defamatory content’ on Yogi Adityanath
In the case of Prashant Kanojia, Ishika Singh and Anuj Shukla, UP DGP O P Singh said, “All three accused have been sent to judicial custody.”
Kanojia was arrested from his Delhi residence on Saturday for allegedly uploading a video on Twitter in which a woman is heard making some claims about Adityanath. Kanojia had posted a comment with the video. Singh, 26, and Shukla, 30, of news channel Nation Live were booked for allegedly propagating “defamatory content” by airing footage of the woman’s claims on their channel.
Additional Superintendent of Police, East (Lucknow), Suresh Chandra Rawat, said Kanojia was produced before a local court in Lucknow on Saturday and sent to jail late evening the same day.
Noida Phase 3 police station SHO Devendra Singh said Singh and Shukla of Nation Live channel were produced before a local court in Noida on Sunday, which remanded them in judicial custody.
The Nation Live office in Noida’s Sector 65 was deserted on Sunday. A lock with a red seal sat on the glass door, which has the company logo on one side and a photograph of Yogi Adityanath on the other.
“It appears that the channel had been telecasting for the past four months on the licence of another channel. The duo have admitted to airing the defamatory content and the fact that their licences were not in order,” said SHO Singh.
While one FIR has been filed against the channel for airing the Kanpur-based woman’s video, another FIR is over alleged fraud in licence.
A sealing order issued on Sunday by the Noida administration and signed by City Magistrate Shailendra Kumar Mishra said, “…There is anger within the party workers and keeping in mind the popularity of UP CM Yogi Adityanath, it cannot be denied that there could be a possible law and order situation in parts of the state and country…”
The order went on to claim that during inspection, a member of the staff presented a licence belonging to channel ‘Network 10’ while the channel operated under the name ‘Nation Live’.
The order alleged the channel aired content with a “polluted mind” and that its actions hinted at a “criminal conspiracy”.
At Kanojia’s house in East Delhi, his wife Jagisha Arora, 26, said, “The SHO of the Harzratganj police station in Lucknow called me up at 10.30 pm on Saturday and told me that Prashant (Kanojia) has been questioned and is being taken to Lucknow jail. He also made me talk to Prashant, who told me he’s fine and that I should call his lawyer and come to Lucknow for his bail on Monday,” said Arora.
According to Arora, Kanojia had been freelancing for the last few months and was looking for a job.
On the video that Kanojia shared, Arora said, “I don’t know how he got hold of this video… he probably saw it on Facebook. We don’t know the woman in the video either. It’s sarcasm and that’s not a crime… Will the police arrest everyone who questions the government? I stand by his right to post anything on social media.”
After his post was widely shared on Twitter, Arora remembers Kanojia showing her the number of “likes and shares”. “It feels good to see people appreciating your post but it wasn’t a big deal. We moved on, it was just a joke, it meant nothing. Over 7,500 people liked his tweet. Will they put all of them in jail too?” said Arora.
The Editors Guild of India condemned the arrests and called the police action “high-handed, arbitrary and amounting to an authoritarian misuse of laws”. In a statement released on Sunday it said the arrests were “an effort to intimidate the press, and stifle freedom of expression”.
The fact that the FIR was taken up suo moto by the police, the statement said, “is a condemnable misuse of law and state power”.