New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday granted five-day interim bail to Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair in connection with an FIR lodged against him in Sitapur district of Uttar Pradesh for allegedly outraging religious sentiments but he will remain in custody as per the order of a Delhi court in another case.
The top court also barred Zubair from posting anything on Twitter and said he shall not tamper with any evidence, electronics or otherwise.
The court, however, clarified that its interim bail order is with respect to the First Information Report(FIR) lodged in Sitapur and has nothing to do with a separate case registered against the journalist in Delhi. Zubair is currently in judicial custody in Delhi.
During the hearing of the journalist’s bail plea, senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, appearing for Zubair, said it is ironical that the persons who made hate speeches are on bail while the petitioner, who exposed the hate speeches made by them, is now in custody.
“What this country has become?” Gonsalves asked, and pointed out that Zubair’s work was to expose such hate speeches and fake news.
A vacation bench of Justices Indira Banerjee and JK Maheshwari issued notice to the Uttar Pradesh government on Zubair’s plea and listed it on July 12 for further hearing before a regular bench of the top court.
“In the meanwhile, the petitioner shall be granted interim bail in connection with FIR No. 0226 dated June 1, 2022 lodged at Police Station Khairabad, District Sitapur, Uttar Pradesh for a period of five days from today or until further orders of the Regular Bench on terms and conditions to be imposed by the Judicial Magistrate-I, Sitapur, which shall include the conditions that the petitioner shall not post any tweets and shall not tamper with any evidence, electronic or otherwise in Bengaluru or anywhere else”, the bench said in its order.
The bench clarified that it has not stayed the investigation in the case registered against Zubair at Sitapur and that the police can seize the laptop and other electronic gadgets, if required.
Taking note of the submission by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta that the petitioner is in judicial custody in Delhi in connection with a different offence, the top court said it is not concerned at this stage with any FIR other than the case lodged in Uttar Pradesh which is the subject matter of the proceedings before it.
An FIR was lodged against Zubair in Uttar Pradesh under Indian Penal Code section 295A (deliberate and malicious act intended to outrage religious feelings) and section 67 of the IT Act here on a complaint by Hindu Sher Sena Sitapur district president Bhagwan Sharan on June 1.
Zubair was arrested by the Delhi Police on June 27 for allegedly hurting religious sentiments through one of his tweets.
At the outset, Mehta, appearing for the UP government, raised preliminary objections on the appeal filed by Zubair against the Allahabad High Court order denying him anticipatory bail, and said there was wilful suppression of facts by Zubair that his bail plea has been rejected by the Sitapur court on Thursday and he has been in police custody by the speaking order of the court.
He said Zubair will remain in judicial custody as per the order of the Delhi court.
Additional Solicitor General SV Raju, appearing for the investigating officer in the UP matter, said a prime facie case is made out under section 295 (A) of IPC (Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs) and under section 153A (promoting enmity between groups).
He said the alleged act of Zubair publicly calling seers as “hate mongers” has potential to outrage religious feelings of a particular community and incite violence as he had tweeted against a seer who is “respected” and has a large following.
Gonsalves said he is admitting to the tweets but they do not disclose commission of any offence and has only pointed out to the offences of hate speeches and police has subsequently taken action against the perpetrators.
Mehta said it is not the question of one tweet or two tweets but the question is that he is part of a syndicate which is regularly posting such tweets with the intention to destabilise the country.
“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”, he said, adding there is something more than meets the eye.
Gonsalves said there is a threat to Zubair’s life and he needs to be protected as it is a question of right to life.
The bench directed that a translated order of the Uttar Pradesh court be filed along with other documents before the next date of hearing.
“The order dated July 7, 2022 of remand passed by the Judicial Magistrate-I, Sitapur, Uttar Pradesh be translated into English and filed in court along with the order of the same date also passed by the Judicial Magistrate-I, Sitapur, Uttar Pradesh rejecting the prayer of the petitioner for grant of bail in connection with FIR No. 0226 dated June 1, 2022 lodged at Police Station Khairabad, District Sitapur, Uttar Pradesh”, the bench said.
Seeking bail from the top court, Zubair, in his plea, has submitted that there is a “new” police strategy afoot in hate speech cases and communal crimes where FIRs are registered against criminals as well as those monitoring and protesting such crimes.
He has alleged the strategy is to “stifle” freedom of speech of secular persons in society who stand up against communal elements. PTI