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Prashant Kanojia arrest: UP admin silences dissenting voices, says statement

More than 1000 prominent journalists and civil society activists have condemned the continued incarceration of journalist Prashant Kanojia in Uttar Pradesh. With the Allahabad High Court granting the Uttar Pradesh government four weeks time to respond to his bail plea, he continues to be in prison.

The signatories include Pamela Philipose, Siddharth Varadarajan, Teesta Setalvad, Meena Kandaswamy, Jignesh Mevani, Kiruba Munusamy, Jagisha Arora, Cynthia Stephen, Kavita Krishnan, Suchitra Vijayan, Tejas Harad, Japleen Pasricha, Divya Kandukuri, Tongam Rina, Nikita Sud, Gurmeher Kaur, Priyanka Paul, Bahujan organisations ASA- TISS, BAPSA- JNU, Bhim Army Student Federation, Dalit Women Fight, Civil society and political organisations like AIPWA, DYFI, Detention Solidarity Network, AISA, All India Majlis E Inquilab E Millat, Akhil Bhartiya Ravidassia Dharm Sangthan, members of a host of international educational institutions including Columbia University, Oxford university, King’s College London, SOAS University of London, University of Toronto, Indiana University Bloomington, Georgetown University, etc

Kanojia was arrested on Aug 18, 2020, on charges of tweeting a morphed photo of the Hindu Sena chief Sushil Tiwari. Kanojia had deleted the tweet on learning it was a morphed tweet of an original tweet where the leader of the hindutva group had said that the UPSC (Union Public Service Commission) syllabus should replace Islamic studies with Vedic studies. The morphed tweet said that Tiwari advocated that the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya should restrict the entry of members of the Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) and Other Backward Classes (OBCs).

Kanojia had deleted the tweet almost immediately but screenshots were taken and a complaint lodged against him. His twitter account is obviously closely monitored since his tweet on Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath last year resulted in his arrest on June 8. He was then released after the Supreme Court held that the fundamental right to liberty was non-negotiable.

Incidentally, the original tweet by Sushil Tiwari as well as several objectionable posts by him on his social media accounts, including on his facebook page, are still on his page and continue to remain there without drawing any action from the administration. His videos tell people to boycott Muslim haircutting saloons and Muslim vegetable vendors and say that ‘real’ hindus are ready to shed blood and are not cowards.

On the other hand, Kanojia continues to be in jail for his deleted tweet. He has been charged under sections 153 (A), 153 (B), 420, 465, 468, 469, 500, 505(1)(b), 505(2) and 66 of the Indian Penal Code, dealing with defamation and causing disharmony and enmity between people of different religions.

Read full statement below:

Statement Condemning the Arrest of Bahujan Journalist Prashant Kanojia

On 18 August 2020, Bahujan journalist Prashant Kanojia was arrested by Uttar Pradesh police. He is being held in custody over a tweet he had forwarded, which he had immediately deleted upon learning that it contained fake news. This is a routine social media behaviour that one observes on the platform almost every day.

However, this was used as a pretext for arresting Kanojia. Furthermore, the Allahabad High Court accepted the Uttar Pradesh government’s request that it be given four weeks to respond to his bail plea. This ensures that Kanojia remains incarcerated for an extended period of time.

This is not the first time Kanojia has been arrested by the Uttar Pradesh police over a tweet. In a similar incident last year, he was detained for ‘objectionable comments’ against the Uttar Pradesh chief minister on Twitter. On that occasion the Supreme Court had ordered his immediate release. However, the harassment has continued.

It is clear that the arrest and detention of Kanojia is politically motivated and driven by vendetta. It fits a larger pattern of Uttar Pradesh administration attempting to silence dissenting voices. In recent times it has repeatedly gone after activists and journalists alike using questionable legal pretexts. This is a clear attack on the right to free speech, and the Uttar Pradesh government needs to be held accountable for attempting to create this ‘chilling effect’ by intimidating and silencing its critics.

Prashant Kanojia is a well-respected journalist with a big social media following. Being an outspoken Bahujan with a mass following, who consistently raises issues of caste-based exclusion and violence, his arrest has to be seen as an attack on the anti-caste activists. We, the undersigned, condemn these intimidation and harassment tactics of the Uttar Pradesh government and demand Kanojia’s early and timely release.

We stand in solidarity with Prashant Kanojia. #StandWithPrashantKanojia

Jai Bhim!

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