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Monday, December 06, 2021

Lucknow’s long arm

The three arrests by UP police for a tweet and a video are an attack on free speech — they need a strong rebuff

By: Editorial |
Updated: June 10, 2019 4:20:33 am
up police, yogi adityanath, yogi adityanath woman relationship, delhi journalist arrested, woman relationship yogi adityanath, woman video relationship yogi adityanath, Prashant Kanojia, journalist Prashant Kanojia arrested, The UP police are doing what is, disturbingly, becoming frequent, evident in the shameful string of arrests of men and women across the country for posting or even forwarding material critical of those in power.

The heart of the matter is a video in which a woman makes several claims regarding herself and UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath. She is, according to her family, seeking medical help for her “mental condition”. But the Uttar Pradesh Police, which prides itself on the dubious way it has “encountered” criminals, promptly files an FIR in Hazratganj, Lucknow, on a tweet referencing the video by freelance journalist Prashant Kanojia in Delhi, picks him up from his Delhi home and takes him to Lucknow. Also arrested are Ishika Singh and Anuj Shukla, who work with the TV channel which aired the video. If the police forces were to spend their days making arrests for the unverified content that people tweet about from buses and trains, from bedrooms and even from bathrooms, it would offer relief to real criminals, who could live their lives more richly, without fear of state intimidation. Clearly, therefore, this response of the police is an attempt to intimidate anyone who takes a swipe at those in power.

In this, the UP police are doing what is, disturbingly, becoming frequent, evident in the shameful string of arrests of men and women across the country for posting or even forwarding material critical of those in power. An FIR is lodged, a quick arrest made — and the stain spreads. In this case, it’s no outraged citizen who has filed the case, it is the police themselves. How should the TV channel have treated this video is a question for the channel to answer — there’s due process available to all sides to deal with content that’s allegedly defamatory. But arrests for airing the video and sharing it are a clear violation of that process. Of course, it is too much to expect the mandarins of the UP police to read the legal provisions carefully, including the ringing Supreme Court verdict that extended the contours of free speech to online. Recall the observations of the Supreme Court in 2015, in the matter of Shreya Singhal vs Union of India. Therein, the court had struck down as unconstitutional Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, which had been repeatedly misused to launch witch-hunts against ordinary people who had spoken online against the powerful. The specific ground for quashing the section was the vagueness of the terms inviting charges — “annoying” or “offensive” comments, for instance. The term “objectionable”, which the UP Police has used to justify driving down to Delhi to make arrests, is no less vague and unconstitutional.

Hopefully, the courts, which have had a tradition of upholding free speech against the excesses of the state, will step in and show UP police their rightful place.

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