My Arrest was to Intimidate Journalists, Says Kanojia

Dalit journalist Prashant Kanojia and Zakir Ali Tiyagi spoke to media at the Press Conference organised by United Against Hate in New Delhi on Monday.

Zakir Ali Tiyagi, another victim of UP police’s high handedness, said that his life has become miserable after he was slapped with sedition charges by the police for posting a tweet on CM Yogi.

Abdul Bari Masoud | Caravan Daily

NEW DELHI —  Freelance Dalit journalist Prashant Kanojia was arrested by the UP police for a tweet against  UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. He was released on Supreme Court order and was told that his arrest was meant to intimidate and warn those journalists who dared dissent and not necessarily to toe the government or ruling party’s line. Zakir Ali Tiyagi, another victim of UP police’s high handedness, said that his life has become miserable after he was slapped with sedition charges by the police for posting a tweet on CM Yogi.

Addressing the media in New Delhi on Monday, Kanojia defended the right of dissent and freedom of speech, narrating the details of his arrest and horrible conditions in jail.

“My arrest was a part of a larger plot of the present government to cow down journalists who do not toe the government line; what happened with me will not stop with me”, he said, further adding that we can’t fight with the state might. On top of that, he individually termed the police machinery as a mere a pawn in this game.

He also alleged that the lower judiciary is like a hand in glove with the police.

“When I was produced before a magistrate, I was hoping that this young, educated man will inquire about the reason behind my arrest, but to my surprise, he promptly signed on the dotted line, sending me into 11 days of judicial custody, without uttering a single word”.

He also narrated what had happened with him in jail saying there exists no law inside, except “manusmiriti’, which is the real manual of the jail.

“Horrible and inhuman conditions are a common place not only in UP’s jails but also in other jails across the country. The jail authorities do not even perform the formal medical check on inmates”, he revealed, and called for joint efforts in order to remove lawlessness inside Indian jails.

Kanojia was arrested by the UP police around midnight, on June 8, and the men were not in uniform and without an arrest warrant. The reason for his arrest from his Delhi residence was due to sharing a video of a woman who said she wanted to marry Adityanath and mocking her for the same. His arrest has triggered anger and outrage among many in the journalism fraternity, civil society, and opposition parties. He was released by the Apex court (while disagreeing with his tweet) after his wife had approached the court.

Kanojia termed the Supreme Court verdict as a landmark in the case.

“If the Supreme Court would have not repeated what it said about my tweets then it would have been a point of more worry for me. While expressing its disagreement with my tweets, it ordered my release – this makes the verdict more landmark, and shows that whether or not you agree with someone, you can’t put him behind bars for that,” he said

He also said that it has become a visible trend in the country that no government cannot tolerate dissent and criticism.

“It is not a question of only Yogi government, but rather, all political parties behave in the same manner when they are in power. They are all feudal in nature but behaved as socialist and democratic when they were not in power, he added.

He also commented on the bias of police, commenting that he considered himself lucky that he was not beaten up by them.

“If I would have belonged to the Muslim community, they (police) would have beaten me so mercilessly in their custody that I would not have been able to stand on my feet”, he said, while sympathizing with Zakir Ali Tiyagi, who also narrated his ordeal for having posted about journalist Waseem Tiyagi on his Facebook wall.

Tiyagi is originally from Meerut and currently based out of Muzaffarnagar. Police knocked on his door dead night and whisked him away to the Police station, where they did not beat him up themselves, but used the services of hooligans for this purpose. He had lamented that unlike in the case of Kanojia, nobody came to his rescue when he was arrested, supposedly for no crime on his part.

“I was picked from my home at around 9:30 pm on April 2, 2017, in Meerut,  just for an hour of questioning, but was kept in the lock-up whole night while my family was moved around. They were kept in the dark, and I was sent to jail where I had to spend 42 days for no wrongdoing whatsoever”, he added.

Tiyagi is a BA final year student and hails from a very poor family, due to which his education expenses had been borne by his uncle.

Wife of Rupeesh Kumar Singh, Apita, who was arrested by the Chhattisgarh police on alleged connections with naxals, said on the phone from Raipur that her husband was arrested on fabricated charges. She also revealed that a police officer asked her husband as to why he showed sympathy for Naxals and Dalits despite being an educated and married man. She alleged that the arms and ammunition recovered from her husband’s car was placed by the police to implicate him.

On one occasion, noted activist Professor Aproovanand said that the arrest of Kanojia or Tiyagi is an attack on people’s right of getting information. He said we should not get complacent after the release of Kanojia but remain vigilant all time, as this government clearly does not like dissent.

Hartosh Singh Bal, Political Editor of Caravan Magazine, said that Kanojia‘s arrest was not surprising as this has been happening since this government came to power in 2014.  It has a wider context, in the form of Hindutva Raj, where Muslims have been declared as anti-national and the whole community has been excluded from the political and social life, he added.

Referring to the Supreme Court ruling on sedition charges, he adds that slapping sedition charges against anyone is not only unconstitutional but also the contempt of the top court which categorically ruled in a Khalistan leader case that verbal implications cannot amount to sedition.

“It is a pity that the country‘s home minister a person who has faced murder charges some four years ago,” he lamented.

In this context, United Against Hate‘s activist Nadeem Khan, who organized the press conference, has claimed that the police action is high-handed, arbitrary and amounts to an authoritarian misuse of laws in order to unnecessarily intimidate media persons.

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