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Supreme Court orders release of Mohammed Zubair on interim bail in all UP Police FIRs

The Court moves his cases from UP to Delhi police and scraps SIT

Sabrangindia 21 Jul 2022

Supreme Court
Image Courtesy: thenewsminute.com

On July 20, 2022, the Supreme Court ordered the release of AltNews co-founder and fact-checker Mohammed Zubair, on interim bail in all UP police FIRs and directed the Tihar jail authorities to ensure that he is released before 6pm that day, subject to furnishing bail bonds, reported LiveLaw. The Court clubbed all the FIRs and said that the case should be handled by one investigating authority i.e. Special Cell of Delhi Police.

A bench comprising of Justice DY Chandrachud, Surya Kant and AS Bopanna observed that existence of power of arrest must be pursued sparingly by the Police. The bench disbanded the Special Investigation team (SIT) formed by Uttar Pradesh and held that there was no justification to keep him in continued custody in connection with six cases filed against him in the state for allegedly hurting religious sentiments with Twitter posts.

The Court reportedly stated, “Essentially, the gravamen of the FIRs pertain to the tweets. Having regard to the fact that the petitioner has been subjected to comprehensive investigation by the Delhi Police, we find no reason for his deprivation of personal liberty to sustain.”

Refusing to impose a bail condition on him to prevent him from tweeting again, Justice Chandrachud reportedly told the Additional Advocate General of UP, “We can't say that he won't tweet again. It is like telling a lawyer that you should not argue. How can we tell a journalist that he will not write?... ..If there is any tweets against law, he will be answerable. How can be pass any anticipatory order that someone will not speak..."

With respect to all future FIRs that may be registered against him on the basis of his tweets, the Court ordered, “FIR which may be registered against petitioner hereafter on the subject matter, in which event, the investigation of the FIR shall stand transferred to Delhi Police & he will be entitled to bail.” It further stated that Zubair would be liberty to seek quashing of the FIRs before the Delhi High Court.

Zubair was first arrested by the Delhi police on June 27 over a tweet posted by him in 2018 and was later remanded in the other FIRs registered by the UP Police. Zubair was charged under IPC sections 153A (promoting enmity), 295A (acts to outrage religious feelings), and 298 (uttering words to wound religious feelings), along with section 67 (publishing or transmitting obscene material) of the Information Technology Act.

On July 8, Justices Indira Banerjee and JK Maheshwari granted him interim bail in the Sitapur case under the condition that he will not will not post any further tweets. They made it clear that the court had not stayed the investigation in the FIR and that interim relief does not apply to any other pending case.

On July 12, 2022, the Supreme Court extended the five days interim bail granted to him in the case where he had called three religious leaders "hate mongers" (Sitapur case). A bench led by Justice DY Chandrachud granted the state government four weeks to file its counter. The authorities charged the fact-checking website head for deliberate and malicious acts, intent to outrage religious feelings and promote enmity between different religious groups.

On July 15, 2022, a Delhi Court granted bail to Muhammad Zubair in a case related to 2018 tweet that allegedly hurt religious sentiments and promoted enmity.

On July 18, the Supreme Court had directed the Uttar Pradesh Police to not take any precipitative action against Alt-News Co-founder and Fact-checker Mohammed Zubair in connection with the 5 First Information Reports (FIR) registered against him over his tweets till July 20.

Separate FIRs have been lodged against Zubair in Sitapur, Lakhimpur Kheri, Ghaziabad, Muzaffarnagar, and Hathras districts on charges of allegedly hurting religious feelings, making sarcastic remarks on news anchors, disrespecting Hindu gods, and inflammatory posts.

Yesterday, Advocate Vrinda Grover appearing for Zubair argued that none of the tweets remotely used language which is improper of which amount to criminal offence and therefore, it was a clear case of silencing the fact checker invoking criminal offence with multiple FIRs. She reportedly stated, “In this age of digital age, the job of someone who is debunking false information may draw the ire of others. But the law cannot be weaponised against him…The dormant FIRs are activated the moment I secure bail in any case. Dormant FIR gets suddenly activated. That is why I say there is more than meets the eye. There is a scenario of encircling me.”

On the other hand, UP AAG Garima Prashad reportedly contended, “He calls himself a fact-checker. Under the guise of fact checking, he is promoting malicious and provocative content. And he gets paid for the tweets. More malicious the tweets, more payment he gets. He has admitted. He has got over Rs 2 crores. He is no journalist." She further alleged that instead of informing the police of illegal speech or hatred, Zubair has been taking advantage of speeches and videos which have the potential of creating a communal divide and he has been sharing them repeatedly,” reported LiveLaw.

Arguments made in favour of Zubair:

Advocate Grover reportedly stated, “He is pointing out as a fact checker that the picture of mosque used in a graphic of Sudarshan TV is wrong mosque. And I tag the police saying hope they will take action. Who is actually inciting? The graphic shared by Sudarshan TV channel. I as a fact checker place the actual image of Gaza bombing and image of real mosque. Prima facie, there is no offence made out. And FIRs are lodged by correspondents by this very channel (Sudarshan)."

Speaking about the police remand, she further argued, “What kind of police remand application is this? They will take me into custody and take me to wherever they want to investigate tweets from 2014 to take into custody of all devices. Is this not a statutory abuse of the power of investigation? There are direct threats against him. There is a bounty announced for his head. He is lodged in Tihar jail and he is taken back and forth.”

“Why I am saying this is an orchestrated investigation? 14 days remand is sought for omnibus investigation. 91 notices issued to AltNews asking for our entire records, accounts by three police stations. Scope of investigation is no longer the same.”

Argument by UP Govt

The AAG argued that Zubair should have informed the police instead of sharing the videos and speeches repeatedly online. With respect to the Sitapur FIR, she reportedly submitted that the objectionable speeches made by Bajrang Muni did not gain attention until Zubair, on April 7, made the speech viral through his Twitter handle. He did not tag the Sitapur police in this tweet.

Copy of the order maybe read here: 

Related:

‘Vicious cycle’ against Mohammed Zubair: SC
Mohammed Zubair seeks urgent hearing before SC on his plea against FIRs
Muhammad Zubair gets bail in 2018 tweet case
Mohammad Zubair moves Supreme Court seeking to quash 6 FIRs filed in Uttar Pradesh
SC extends Alt News co-founder Zubair's bail until further notice
SC grants interim bail to Mohammed Zubair
Medha Patkar and 11 others accused of "misuse of funds"
Alt New denies allegations of foreign funding

Supreme Court orders release of Mohammed Zubair on interim bail in all UP Police FIRs

The Court moves his cases from UP to Delhi police and scraps SIT

Supreme Court
Image Courtesy: thenewsminute.com

On July 20, 2022, the Supreme Court ordered the release of AltNews co-founder and fact-checker Mohammed Zubair, on interim bail in all UP police FIRs and directed the Tihar jail authorities to ensure that he is released before 6pm that day, subject to furnishing bail bonds, reported LiveLaw. The Court clubbed all the FIRs and said that the case should be handled by one investigating authority i.e. Special Cell of Delhi Police.

A bench comprising of Justice DY Chandrachud, Surya Kant and AS Bopanna observed that existence of power of arrest must be pursued sparingly by the Police. The bench disbanded the Special Investigation team (SIT) formed by Uttar Pradesh and held that there was no justification to keep him in continued custody in connection with six cases filed against him in the state for allegedly hurting religious sentiments with Twitter posts.

The Court reportedly stated, “Essentially, the gravamen of the FIRs pertain to the tweets. Having regard to the fact that the petitioner has been subjected to comprehensive investigation by the Delhi Police, we find no reason for his deprivation of personal liberty to sustain.”

Refusing to impose a bail condition on him to prevent him from tweeting again, Justice Chandrachud reportedly told the Additional Advocate General of UP, “We can't say that he won't tweet again. It is like telling a lawyer that you should not argue. How can we tell a journalist that he will not write?... ..If there is any tweets against law, he will be answerable. How can be pass any anticipatory order that someone will not speak..."

With respect to all future FIRs that may be registered against him on the basis of his tweets, the Court ordered, “FIR which may be registered against petitioner hereafter on the subject matter, in which event, the investigation of the FIR shall stand transferred to Delhi Police & he will be entitled to bail.” It further stated that Zubair would be liberty to seek quashing of the FIRs before the Delhi High Court.

Zubair was first arrested by the Delhi police on June 27 over a tweet posted by him in 2018 and was later remanded in the other FIRs registered by the UP Police. Zubair was charged under IPC sections 153A (promoting enmity), 295A (acts to outrage religious feelings), and 298 (uttering words to wound religious feelings), along with section 67 (publishing or transmitting obscene material) of the Information Technology Act.

On July 8, Justices Indira Banerjee and JK Maheshwari granted him interim bail in the Sitapur case under the condition that he will not will not post any further tweets. They made it clear that the court had not stayed the investigation in the FIR and that interim relief does not apply to any other pending case.

On July 12, 2022, the Supreme Court extended the five days interim bail granted to him in the case where he had called three religious leaders "hate mongers" (Sitapur case). A bench led by Justice DY Chandrachud granted the state government four weeks to file its counter. The authorities charged the fact-checking website head for deliberate and malicious acts, intent to outrage religious feelings and promote enmity between different religious groups.

On July 15, 2022, a Delhi Court granted bail to Muhammad Zubair in a case related to 2018 tweet that allegedly hurt religious sentiments and promoted enmity.

On July 18, the Supreme Court had directed the Uttar Pradesh Police to not take any precipitative action against Alt-News Co-founder and Fact-checker Mohammed Zubair in connection with the 5 First Information Reports (FIR) registered against him over his tweets till July 20.

Separate FIRs have been lodged against Zubair in Sitapur, Lakhimpur Kheri, Ghaziabad, Muzaffarnagar, and Hathras districts on charges of allegedly hurting religious feelings, making sarcastic remarks on news anchors, disrespecting Hindu gods, and inflammatory posts.

Yesterday, Advocate Vrinda Grover appearing for Zubair argued that none of the tweets remotely used language which is improper of which amount to criminal offence and therefore, it was a clear case of silencing the fact checker invoking criminal offence with multiple FIRs. She reportedly stated, “In this age of digital age, the job of someone who is debunking false information may draw the ire of others. But the law cannot be weaponised against him…The dormant FIRs are activated the moment I secure bail in any case. Dormant FIR gets suddenly activated. That is why I say there is more than meets the eye. There is a scenario of encircling me.”

On the other hand, UP AAG Garima Prashad reportedly contended, “He calls himself a fact-checker. Under the guise of fact checking, he is promoting malicious and provocative content. And he gets paid for the tweets. More malicious the tweets, more payment he gets. He has admitted. He has got over Rs 2 crores. He is no journalist." She further alleged that instead of informing the police of illegal speech or hatred, Zubair has been taking advantage of speeches and videos which have the potential of creating a communal divide and he has been sharing them repeatedly,” reported LiveLaw.

Arguments made in favour of Zubair:

Advocate Grover reportedly stated, “He is pointing out as a fact checker that the picture of mosque used in a graphic of Sudarshan TV is wrong mosque. And I tag the police saying hope they will take action. Who is actually inciting? The graphic shared by Sudarshan TV channel. I as a fact checker place the actual image of Gaza bombing and image of real mosque. Prima facie, there is no offence made out. And FIRs are lodged by correspondents by this very channel (Sudarshan)."

Speaking about the police remand, she further argued, “What kind of police remand application is this? They will take me into custody and take me to wherever they want to investigate tweets from 2014 to take into custody of all devices. Is this not a statutory abuse of the power of investigation? There are direct threats against him. There is a bounty announced for his head. He is lodged in Tihar jail and he is taken back and forth.”

“Why I am saying this is an orchestrated investigation? 14 days remand is sought for omnibus investigation. 91 notices issued to AltNews asking for our entire records, accounts by three police stations. Scope of investigation is no longer the same.”

Argument by UP Govt

The AAG argued that Zubair should have informed the police instead of sharing the videos and speeches repeatedly online. With respect to the Sitapur FIR, she reportedly submitted that the objectionable speeches made by Bajrang Muni did not gain attention until Zubair, on April 7, made the speech viral through his Twitter handle. He did not tag the Sitapur police in this tweet.

Copy of the order maybe read here: 

Related:

‘Vicious cycle’ against Mohammed Zubair: SC
Mohammed Zubair seeks urgent hearing before SC on his plea against FIRs
Muhammad Zubair gets bail in 2018 tweet case
Mohammad Zubair moves Supreme Court seeking to quash 6 FIRs filed in Uttar Pradesh
SC extends Alt News co-founder Zubair's bail until further notice
SC grants interim bail to Mohammed Zubair
Medha Patkar and 11 others accused of "misuse of funds"
Alt New denies allegations of foreign funding

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