The Supreme Court today gave bail for five days to fact-checker Mohammed Zubair in a case registered in Sitapur, Uttar Pradesh, over calling three Hindu right-wing leaders “hatemongers”; but he will remain in jail for now as there’s no bail yet in a case in Delhi.
The Alt News co-founder’s plea in the Supreme Court challenges the Allahabad High Court’s refusal to quash the Sitapur FIR, which says he hurt religious sentiments with his tweet. The bail today is an interim order as the court will now hear the matter next week. It came a day after a local court in Sitapur denied him bail and sent him to police remand. A condition for the bail is that he cannot post any tweets.
The UP government argued that he is being taken to Bengaluru — where he lives — so any bail should be given only after that. It also underlined that he is technically in judicial custody in a case in Delhi too. But the Supreme Court said, “We are dealing with only the UP police case. The matter be listed before the appropriate bench next week.”
Mr Zubair had gone to the Supreme Court yesterday, citing death threats. As he sought an immediate halt to the UP case, the court listed it for urgent hearing in a day. The Allahabad High Court had on June 10 said it was too early for it to intervene.
At today’s hearing, lawyer Colin Gonsalves said on Mr Zubair’s behalf: “When I say hatemongers… I am not wrong. Police have arrested them. And once out, they’re again indulging in hate speech.”
“These hatemongers made remarks on the Constitution, on judges. I exposed this kind of venomous language… Here I am defending the Constitution,” he told the court. He also questioned the need to recover Mr Zubair’s mobile from Bengaluru. “I have admitted to this tweet. What is the investigation needed for?”
“After the tweet, there was a law and order situation,” he argued, saying that Yati Narsinghanand — one of three men that Mr Zubair named, the other two being Bajrang Muni and Anand Swaroop — was arrested and is out on bail. “We are not defending him. But the law and order situation after this tweet is under investigation.”
“There is more than that meets the eye,” claimed the UP lawyer.
Mr Zubair’s lawyer earlier told the court, “I was referring to hate speech [in my tweet]. Where have I spoken against a religion? While those who gave hate speeches are out on bail, the one who exposed them is in jail… Exposing hate speech in not promoting enmity.”
The Supreme Court asked the police lawyer to show whether an offence under section 295A (hurting religious sentiments) of the India Penal Code (IPC) is indeed made out, to which he replied, “The moment you call a religious leader a hatemonger, you are inciting violence… If you were such a nice person, you could have sent a letter to police. Why did you tweet?”
The legal position now is that Mr Zubair stays in Tihar Jail as a Delhi court had sent him to judicial custody for 14 days on July 2.