NEW DELHI ― “When you hear news like this, you feel scared. I thought I was in danger because I was right in the middle of the web, but if the government can pick up a journalist from Delhi and bring him to Lucknow then you know that no one is safe,” said Manoj Kumar Singh, a journalist based in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh.
Singh was referring to Prashant Kanojia, a freelance journalist, who was arrested for posting a tweet mocking UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and lodged in Lucknow jail over the weekend.
While arresting people over “objectionable” social media posts has become routine in the past five years, Kanojia’s arrest over a taunt suggests that free speech and press freedom is not likely to survive another five years of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its leaders.
Equally worrying is the silence of the mainstream media.
On Sunday, a day after Kanojia was picked up from his house in Delhi by policemen wearing plain clothes, and moved to Lucknow, most Hindi-language news channels made no mention of his arrest.
In interviews with HuffPost India, a section of UP-based journalists said that Kanojia had no business commenting on Adityanath’s personal life and that it was irresponsible for him to have put out unverified information without seeking the CM’s comment. How was the Adityanath government’s action any worse than West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee arresting a BJP worker for posting a photo-shopped image of her on Facebook, they asked.
“Just like in Gorakphur, the UP and national media has surrendered,” said Singh, who has reported from Adityanath’s bastion for over two decades.
“The media has surrendered,” he repeated.
The “objectionable” tweet in question contained a video of a woman who claimed that she had been video conferencing with the Chief Minister for over a year, and she wanted to discuss marriage with him.
Kanojia added the message, “Ishq chupta nahin chupane se Yogi ji.″