Delhi court gives bail to Mohammed Zubair, pulls up cops
The Alt News co-founder will, however, stay in jail over cases registered against him in Uttar Pradesh.
New Delhi: A Delhi court on Friday granted bail to fact-checker and Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair, more than a fortnight after the Delhi Police arrested him for a 2018 tweet for allegedly hurting Hindu religious sentiments, while noting that the voice of dissent is necessary for a healthy democracy. Zubair was arrested by the Delhi Police on June 27.
However, Zubair will stay in jail over cases registered against him in Uttar Pradesh. He has asked the Supreme Court to cancel the six cases registered against him in the state. The apex court has granted him interim bail in one of those six cases, but he has been sent to judicial custody in another.
“Political parties are not shying away from public to face criticism of the policies. The voice of dissent is necessary for healthy democracy... merely for the criticism of any political party is not justified to invoke sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence) and 295A (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs) IPC,” said additional sessions judge Devender Kumar Jangala.
The court noted that the investigating agency has failed to establish the identity of the Twitter user who felt offended by the tweet of the accused. The only tweet posted by the account was against Zubair, and it is no longer active.
The court granted Zubair bail in the Delhi case on a personal and surety bond of ₹50,000 and said he should not leave the country without the court’s permission.
It said that Zubair should not repeat the offence and should ensure that his tweets or re-tweets or any material he posts on social media steer clear of anything punishable under sections 153A and 295 A.
Asserting that “free speech is the proper foundation of a democratic society”, the judge said democracy is a government by the people via open discussion and it can neither work nor prosper unless people get to share their views.
“A free exchange of ideas, dissemination of information without restraint, dissemination of knowledge, airing of differing viewpoints, debating and forming one’s own views and expressing them, are the basic indicator of a free society,” he said in his order.
The judge added that Hinduism is “one of the oldest religions and most tolerant”, and that while the “ tweet of accused was made in the year 2018” , until “ 2022 no other complaint was received that the tweet ... is offensive to Hindu community or showing disrespect to Lord Hanuman”.
Zubair was arrested over the post shared about four years ago, a clip from a 1983 film, Kissi Se Na Kehna, with a comment about how things were before 2014 and how they have changed after.
A case was registered against Zubair on the complaint by an officer of the Delhi Police’s Special Cell who said he came across a tweet from the anonymous Twitter user, claiming that his or her religious sentiments were hurt by Zubair’s tweet. The Twitter handle, which has posted the complaint had no followers at the time, and was later deleted.
The court said that no complaint has been received against the movie in question which was released in 1983 and certified by the Central Board of Film Certification.
Regarding the prosecution’s contention that Zubair received foreign funds in violation of the provisions of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, the court said the material placed on record prima facie shows due diligence was followed as per section 39 of FCRA.
During the arguments on Thursday, the special public prosecutor for police, responding to a specific query of the court about the meaning of “2014” in the tweet, said this was about the change in government. The BJP-led NDA came to power that year.
However, in its order, the court stated that in the Indian democracy, the political parties are open to criticism.
Zubair moved the Supreme Court on Thursday for quashing six cases registered against him in Uttar Pradesh over his tweets, saying a network of influential persons were weaponising the criminal law machinery to deprive him of his liberty and to target him.
He said six of the seven cases were filed in Uttar Pradesh although the Delhi Police were probing the accusations against him. Zubair said that cases in Uttar Pradesh are a brazen and unconscionable abuse of legal process, and hence deserve to be quashed.
On Thursday, a court in Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras remanded Zubair in 14-day judicial custody in connection with a case registered there on July 4 over his alleged remarks on Hindu gods and goddesses in a 2018 tweet.
Zubair is currently in Delhi’s Tihar Prison. Officials said they were checking if the Hathras court has ordered his judicial custody in Tihar or in an Uttar Pradesh jail.
Other cases are pending against Zubair under similar charges in Sitapur, Ghaziabad, Muzaffarnagar, and Lakhimpur Kheri. He has been booked for promoting enmity between communities and hate speeches, propagated through his tweets.
The maximum punishment under the charges invoked against Zubair is less than seven years in jail, which according to the Supreme Court rulings in 2014, and more recently on July 11, means that he should be arrested only if he is a flight risk or could influence witnesses. Police must also demonstrate that there is a necessity for an arrest.
The top court earlier granted Zubair interim bail on July 8 and later extended it till September 7 in connection with the case against him at Sitapur related to hurting religious sentiments.