NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Friday granted 5-day interim bail to Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair in a hate speech case registered in Sitapur, Uttar Pradesh, but he will remain in jail as he is in judicial custody in another case registered against him in Delhi.
The vacation Bench of Justices Indira Banerjee and J K Maheshwari also restrained Zubair, who is known as a fact-checker on misreporting by newspapers and TV news channels, from putting out any tweets and said the interim bail was subject to conditions imposed by the First Class Judicial Magistrate, Sitapur. It also asked him not to tamper with evidence. Issuing notice to the State of Uttar Pradesh, the Vacation Bench directed Zubair's petition to be posted for hearing before a regular appropriate Bench after summer vacation.
Zubair had sought bail in the case registered against him by the UP police for allegedly hurting religious sentiments by dubbing certain Hindu seers as "hatemongers."
Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta on Friday told the Supreme Court that the matter was not about a single tweet by Zubair; rather, it was about him being a part of the syndicate which puts out tweets to destabilise the society. He opposed bail to Zubair since he had suppressed many facts, including his arrest also by the Delhi Police, and cited the issue of foreign contributions, which are under investigation.
Mehta said after Zubair's tweet there was a law-and-order situation and Yati Narasinghan was arrested and he is now out on bail, and the government is not defending him. He added that Zubair's tweet is under investigation and there is more to it than that meets the eye.
At this juncture senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, representing Zubair, argued that his client had admitted to his tweet; therefore no further investigation was required.
Referring to a speech by Hindu seers, Gonsalves said: "I am not wrong when I say they are hatemongers...I captured the hate speech...how is my tweet an offence, where is the offence?" He added that when no offence was made out, why should there be a need for investigation? "Where is the need for custody? Where have I insulted a religion? If I am right, you can't take me into custody...I am defending the Constitution... Because of the high court order, I am suffering in custody," said Gonsalves.
Mehta countered that Zubair’s overall conduct is under investigation as he is a habitual offender and there are six cases registered against him. Additional Solicitor General S.V. Raju, representing the UP Police, said "He is tweeting...he is inciting violence...there is intent... The moment you call a religious leader a hate monger... you are inciting violence".
Raju added that Zubair outraged the religious feelings of a large number of followers of Mahant Bajrang Muni Baba. "Whether it is deliberate or not, is a matter for trial...you call a religious guru a hate monger, outrage the feelings of a large number of people...attempt to promote disharmony," he added. Raju said if Zubair had issue with the speech, he could have sent a letter to the police, why tweet? He said prima facie a case is made out against him.
On Zubair's claim of threat to his life, Mehta said he is in police custody and so where is any possibility of anybody killing him. He challenged Zubair's counsel making out a case of urgency, but the Bench retorted: "We have gone by deprivation of liberty that has happened. In a matter of deprivation of personal liberty, you can't say there is no urgency."