Indian court orders release of journalist held for Twitter post on Hindu leader

He was detained by plainclothes police last week after a tweet about a woman claiming to be in love with Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister. (File/Reuters)
Updated 11 June 2019
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Indian court orders release of journalist held for Twitter post on Hindu leader

  • The detention drew criticism from media groups and opposition parties, amid fears that the BJP could look to clamp down on the press
  • Two other journalists were also arrested last week for holding a discussion on the woman’s claim about Adityanath

NEW DELHI: India’s top court on Monday ordered the release of a journalist arrested for a social media post about a Hindu nationalist state chief minister, in a case that highlighted growing concerns over free speech and media freedom.
Prashant Kanojia, 26, was detained by plainclothes police last week after a tweet about a woman claiming to be in love with Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, Kanojia’s wife said in a petition filed before the Supreme Court.
A firebrand Hindu monk, Adityanath is a leader in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in power at the federal level and in Uttar Pradesh, the country’s most populous state.
“We order immediate release of the petitioner from jail,” Justice Indira Banerjee said in her order, despite a lawyer for the state government arguing that Kanojia’s post was highly inflammatory.
Banerjee also reprimanded the state government for being heavy-handed in its response to Kanojia’s post. “We can understand that the tweets should not be made. But arresting?” she said.
The detention drew criticism from media groups and opposition parties, amid fears that the BJP could look to clamp down on the press after Modi last month secured a landslide mandate in a general election.
“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 Editors Guild of India said in a statement.
Two other journalists were also arrested last week for holding a discussion on the woman’s claim about Adityanath, said police in Noida, a sprawling Uttar Pradesh city on the outskirts of New Delhi.
Police in Uttar Pradesh’s Gorakhpur district, a political stronghold of Adityanath, arrested one person on Sunday for sharing another social media post on the chief minister, two police said.
Rahul Gandhi, chief of India’s main opposition Congress party, said Adityanath was acting “foolishly” in going after journalists.
“If every journalist who files a false report or peddles fake, vicious RSS/BJP sponsored propaganda about me is put in jail, most newspapers/ news channels would face a severe staff shortage,” he said in a tweet, referring to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the BJP’s fountainhead.
India is ranked 140 out of 180 in the 2019 World Press Freedom Index, which lists police violence against journalists as a striking characteristic of the country’s press environment.


Police arrest newspaper publisher in midnight raid in Indian Kashmir

Ghulam Jeelani Qadri, a journalist and the publisher of the Urdu-language newspaper Daily Afaaq, leaves after a court granted him bail, in Srinagar, June 25, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 26 June 2019
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Police arrest newspaper publisher in midnight raid in Indian Kashmir

  • Journalists in Kashmir find themselves caught in the crossfire between the Indian government and militant groups battling for independence

SRINAGAR: Police arrested the publisher of one of the most widely read newspapers in Indian-controlled Kashmir in a midnight raid over a decades-old case, the police and his brother said on Tuesday, highlighting the difficulties facing media in the region.
Tension has run high in the Himalayan region since more than 40 Indian police were killed in a February suicide car bomb attack by a militant group based in Pakistan.
Muslim-majority Kashmir is at the heart of more than seven decades of hostility between nuclear archrivals India and Pakistan. Each claims it in full but rules only a part.
Ghulam Jeelani Qadri, 62, a journalist and the publisher of the Urdu-language newspaper Daily Afaaq, was arrested at his home in the region’s main city of Srinagar, half an hour before midnight on Monday.
“It is harassment,” his brother, Mohammad Morifat Qadri, told Reuters. “Why is a 1993 arrest warrant executed today? And why against him only?“
Qadri was released on bail after a court appearance on Tuesday.
The case dates from 1990, when Qadri was one of nine journalists to publish a statement by a militant group fighting against Indian rule in Kashmir. An arrest warrant for Qadri was issued in 1993, but it was never served.
Qadri had visited the police station involved in the arrest multiple times since the warrant was issued, most recently in 2017 to apply for a passport, his brother added.
Asked why Qadri was arrested at night, Srinagar police chief Haseeb Mughal told Reuters, “Police were busy during the day.”
The Kashmir Union of Working Journalists condemned the arrest, saying it seemed to be aimed at muzzling the press.
“Qadri was attending the office on a daily basis and there was absolutely no need for carrying out a midnight raid at his residence,” it said in a statement.
Journalists in Kashmir find themselves caught in the crossfire between the Indian government and militant groups battling for independence.
Both sides are stepping up efforts to control the flow of information, with the situation at its worst in decades, dozens of journalists have told Reuters.
India is one of the world’s worst places to be a journalist, ranked 138th among 180 countries on the press freedom index of international monitor Reporters Without Borders, with conditions in Kashmir cited as a key reason.