New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday granted interim bail to fact-checking website Alt News co-founder Mohammad Zubair in the case registered against him in Sitapur in Uttar Pradesh and also issued notice to the state police on his plea challenging the Allahabad High Court order.
The Justices Indira Banerjee and JK Maheshwari granted interim bail to Zubair in a plea challenging the Allahabad High Court order refusing to quash FIR registered for a tweet in which he allegedly called three Hindu seers ‘hate mongers’. The interim bail to Zubair was granted for 5 days on the condition that he will not post any fresh tweets on the issue related to the case and not leave the jurisdiction of the Sitapur Magistrate’s court.
The apex court also said that Zubair shall not tamper with electronic evidence in Bengaluru or anywhere else. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta informed the Supreme Court that yesterday Zubair’s counsel mentioned that there is a threat to his life. ‘He’s in judicial remand, his bail was rejected yesterday by Sitapur court and was sent to remand. This fact was not disclosed by him to the top court. It’s a clear purposeful suppression of facts’, said Mehta. ‘Such conduct of suppression of facts should not be encouraged. He is seeking bail from the Supreme Court without telling this court that his bail was rejected yesterday by the Sitapur court’, he added.
Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, representing Zubair, told the Supreme Court that it was written in the petition that Sitapur police seek police custody of Zubair. The order challenged in the apex court is of the Allahabad High Court. Gonsalves says no criminal case can be made out against Zubair. ‘The foundation of this case is a tweet. We seek quashing of proceedings, and questions of police or judicial custody are irrelevant now. There’s no case made out and the proceedings need to be quashed’.
Zubair has approached the top court challenging the Allahabad High Court’s June 10 order where it had refused to quash an FIR registered against him in Sitapur, Uttar Pradesh saying that it was premature to interfere when the investigation was at a preliminary stage. Filing the appeal against the High Court order, Zubair also sought direction to stay the investigation in the case and direction for UP police not to ‘proceed, prosecute or arrest’ him on the basis of the FIR. The FIR was registered for a tweet in which he allegedly called Hindu seers Yati Narsinghanand Saraswati, Bajrang Muni and Anand Swaroop ‘hate mongers’ on Twitter.
The FIR was lodged against Zubai on June 1 under Section 295 (A) of the IPC and Section 67 of the IT Act at the Khairabad police station in Sitapur district for deliberately ‘outraging religious feelings’ of the seers. His appeal in the apex court has said that the allegations of the FIR against him are ‘absolutely false and baseless’. He claimed to be innocent and said he said that he has not committed any offence. ‘The police are threatening to arrest the petitioner (Zubair) and the life and liberty of the petitioner is in danger. The inclusion of this criminal offence in the FIR portrays the cavalier, malicious and arbitrary manner in which the Respondents (UP police) have acted against the Petitioner’, the appeal stated.
It further stated, ‘There is a new strategy afoot of the police in communal crime cases. That is to register FIRs against those engaging in hate speech and communal crimes, as well as to rope in all secular elements monitoring such crimes and protesting police inaction against the wrongdoers. This is done with the intention of stifling the freedom of speech of secular persons in society who stand up against communal elements and putting fear into them so that they no longer protest. It is therefore imperative that this Court understand this new strategy and nip it in the bud so that secular social activism continues on its path and plays the most necessary role in society to stand up to communalism. ‘Zubair is already in judicial custody in a case registered by the Delhi police for allegedly hurting religious sentiments over a tweet posted by him in 2018.