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Editorial

TOI EDIT-Assault On Media Coercing journalists is self-defeating as a lawless UP police is now discovering

June 13, 2019 05:32 AM

COURTESY TOI JUNE 13

Assault On Media
Coercing journalists is self-defeating as a lawless UP police is now discovering
Lawless police forces across the country that are quick to lodge FIRs and make arrests in cases which fall squarely under the ambit of a person’s right to free speech would do well to pay heed to the Supreme Court. The promptness with which SC released journalist Prashant Kanojia is a morale booster in the unending fight to safeguard constitutional rights from overreach by an authoritarian executive. Abuse of power can also be infectious as Uttar Pradesh police is belatedly discovering. A viral video of GRP police assaulting a journalist on duty brings more disrepute to the state force.

In Kanojia’s case, it was not UP police’s prerogative to accuse him of defaming Yogi Adityanath. The UP CM himself has to make a case for defamation and approach a court to initiate proceedings. This and many other procedural basics were thrown to the winds and subsequently the police added offences like publishing obscenity online (Section 67 of IT Act) and statements conducive to public mischief (IPC Section 505) to shore up their flailing case. However, SC saw through the police mischief and the UP government’s dilatory tactics in demanding Kanojia’s wife approach the Allahabad high court instead for bail. Calling it a “glaring case of deprivation of liberty”, SC also took exception to a magistrate remanding Kanojia to custody until June 22.


The custodial remand was unfortunate. Lower courts are the first line of defence of individual liberties and magistrates must carefully scrutinise police claims and conduct if they are to do their duty and protect citizens’ rights in any meaningful manner. Kanojia’s wife has alleged that UP police in plainclothes picked Kanojia from Delhi without a transit remand or arrest memo. The coercive actions on Hindi news channel Nation Live’s honchos were no less arbitrary, not to mention pulling the entire channel off the air. Perhaps BJP seniors should give the UP CM some history lessons on how bad the Emergency was.

Last month, when Bengal police arrested a BJP youth leader for a meme mocking Mamata Banerjee, it was BJP’s turn to bemoan lawlessness in Bengal. With UP police proving no better, SC’s repeated endorsement of constitutional guarantees like free speech and individual liberty must be accompanied by some bite. As in Isro scientist Nambi Narayanan’s case, SC can make police and governments pay hefty compensation for unlawful arrests and demand action against erring cops. Because, to be dubbed as lawless is a damning appellation for a police force whose primary duty is to uphold the law.

 

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