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No tangible ground to refuse bail to Prashant Kanojia, says Allahabad HC

Justice Attau Rahman Masoodi of the Allahabad High Court had granted bail to journalist Prashant Kanojia, on Thursday but Kanojia continued to remain in jail since the bail order was uploaded only late Friday night.

His wife, Jagisha Arora and friends and supporters, are hopeful procedures to secure his release will be speedy, despite the weekend.

Kanojia, granted bail after more than two months in jail for a morphed tweet, which he had deleted, has assured the court that he will adhere to the law and refrain from posting tweets which may hurt the sentiments of the public at large or any specific group. Bail was granted on condition that he present himself in court for all dates of the hearings in the case against him.

Kanojia’s lawyers said that the chargesheet had already been filed and ‘there
was no possibility apprehension of tempering the evidence or influencing the investigation in any manner.’

The government counsel opposed the plea but the judge said that ‘the submission as regards the quantum of punishment or
entitlement of the accused applicant to be released on bail could
not be disputed on any tangible ground.’

Read bail order here:

Kanojia, charged under sections 505(1)(b), 501, 500 of the Indian Penal Code and Section 67 IT Act, was arrested by Uttar Pradesh police on August 18 from his residence in Delhi, after an FIR was registered by Hazratganj police in Lucknow on the basis of a complaint lodged by Dinesh Kumar Shukla. The latter’s complaint said that Kanojia had posted on Twitter and Facebook, a morphed version of a tweet with a poster of hindutva votary, Sushil Tiwari, to the effect that Shudras, OBCs, SCs, STs would not be allowed entry into the Ram mandir in Ayodhya.

Tiwari is the self-styled leader of what he called a Hindu army (his facebook page describes him as a positive politician and national incharge of a hindu army youth brigade).

Tiwari’s original poster advocated that the UPSC syllabus must remove Islamic studies and introduce vedic studies instead. Indeed, there are Twitter handles (sushil4hindu,PublicSushil) and posters of the same kind (the same fonts, colours and pictures) advocating all manner of boycotts and threats against Muslims. The Twitter handles and the Facebook page are also replete with Tiwari’s videos with messages that clearly seek to incite hatred and communal disharmony.

Kanojia, who worked with The Wire’s Hindi, was arrested on June 9, 2019, for posting a video of a woman speaking to various TV channels about wanting to marry the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath. After a furore, he was released on bail by the Supreme Court.

Jagisha Arora, journalist and wife of Prashant Kanojia, joining a protest by journalists in Delhi on June 10, 2019 (pic courtesy: Deccan Herald)

Then, on the basis of a petition filed by Arora, senior lawyer, Nitya Ramakrishnan and Adv Shadan Farasat, had argued that the FIR against Kanojia has been filed under Sections 500 of the IPC and 66 of the Information Technology Act – both bailable offences.

The two-judge bench of Justice Indira Banerjee and Ajay Rastogi, maintained that the state’s stand was against personal liberty. The court said that it “did not appreciate” Kanojia’s tweets, “but fundamental rights under Article 19 and 21 are non-negotiable.”

Jagisha Arora, who was working tirelessly to secure his release, said that Kanojia’s views on communalism and casteism were very sharp and clear. Kanojia, originally from Mumbai, came from a simple family. His father ran a small publication on social issues in Mumbai.

Jagisha said she totally supported his views and his right to exercise his freedom of expression. It was inexplicable, she said, that Kanojia was arrested and should have to struggle to secure his freedom while the likes of Tiwari could roam scot free and continue to spout hate speech.

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