Supreme Court grants 5-day interim bail to Mohammed Zubair in UP case

Updated on Jul 09, 2022 05:50 AM IST

Zubair will continue to be in judicial custody in connection with a case registered in Delhi. 

Mohammed Zubair will continue to be in judicial custody in connection with a case registered in Delhi. (PTI)
Mohammed Zubair will continue to be in judicial custody in connection with a case registered in Delhi. (PTI)
ByAbraham Thomas, New Delhi

The Supreme Court on Friday granted interim bail to Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair in a case filed against him by the Uttar Pradesh police, granting the journalist five days till the next date of hearing and restraining the state police from taking his custody.

Zubair will continue to be in judicial custody in connection with a case registered in Delhi. The UP police had sought, and secured from a local court in Sitapur, his custody till July 14 over an FIR alleging he hurt religious sentiments by calling three right-wing religious leaders “hate mongers” after they made comments against or threatening other religious communities.

During the hearing, Zubair’s lawyer, senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, argued for the FIR to be quashed entirely, saying it was ironical that the people who made the hate speeches were on bail while Zubair, who exposed those comments with social media posts, was now in custody.

“What this country has become,” Gonsalves said, before detailing the remarks by the three right-wing activists, Yati Narasinghanand Saraswati, Bajrang Muni and Anand Swaroop, who have been booked for those remarks.

“If I am performing the role of pointing out hate speech and reporting to police, it is not promoting enmity between religions. I am promoting secularism in fact, 153A does not apply at all. I am telling them to stop promoting enmity, stop hate speech,” Gonsalves said.

Appearing on behalf of the UP government in front of the bench, which comprised justices Indira Banerjee and JK Maheshwari, were solicitor general (SG) Tushar Mehta, additional solicitor general (ASG) SV Raju and additional advocate general (AAG) Garima Parshad.

They challenged the petition on multiple grounds, including denying that there was a threat to life as was alleged by Zubair, who cited posts and incitements made on social media.

Mehta also challenged the accused’s plea for relief, saying the objection against the journalist did not pertain to certain alleged tweets but on his purported role as being part of a “larger syndicate”.

“We don’t want to disclose much since the investigation is pending but there is a question of money involved in the case. Money has been donated to him from the countries which are inimical to India”.

A third ground pertained to what the prosecution side said “suppression of facts” that his bail plea had been rejected by a court in Sitapur on Thursday, saying the information was not part of the petition. “You cannot play with the system like this,” SG Mehta said, adding: “There is no quarrel on the court deciding urgent listing of the matter. We are on the conduct of the petitioner,” he added.

The ASG, representing UP police, claimed the tweets did indeed hurt religious sentiments. “Bajrang Muni is a respected mahant...a religious leader in Sitapur with large following. When you call a religious leader hate-monger, it raises problems... You have outraged the religious feelings of large number of followers of Bajrangi baba. Whether it is deliberate or not, is a matter for trial. Prima facie offence is made out,” Raju said.

The bench, however, dismissed the objections and noted that the journalist was deprived of his liberty. “You cannot say there is no urgency. He (petitioner) went by the possibility of deprivation of his liberty. That has happened as he has been taken into custody. This was the reason we directed urgent listing of the matter,” the judges said, ordering interim bail till July 12.

The order also directed Zubair to remain within the jurisdictional domain of the Delhi court that sent him to judicial custody in a second case, which relates to a 2018 tweet by him that too has been alleged to hurt religious sentiments after a complaint was made on Twitter by an anonymous account that has now been deleted.

Zubair was arrested by Delhi police on June 27 and was denied bail by a Delhi court on July 2. Two days later, he was taken to Sitapur in connection with the FIR registered there, regarding the tweet against the three right-wing figures.

Mehta said he did not wish to defend the speeches made by Narsinghanand. “I am not here to defend what this man Yati Narsinghanand has said. They have been arrested and were in jail for their actions. But here the question is about the action of the petitioner as his tweet led to a law-and-order situation which is under investigation,” he added.

There is something more than meets the eye, Mehta said.

The matter will next be heard on July 12 by another bench which will be assigned by the Chief Justice of India

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