More than three hours before a Delhi court pronounced its order rejecting the bail application of AltNews co-founder Mohammad Zubair, the DCP (Intelligence Fusion and Strategic Operations) KPS Malhotra made a statement that the bail plea had been rejected, landing him in a tough spot and forcing him to offer a quick retraction as Zubair’s lawyers accused him of leaking the order to the press.
The DCP then claimed he had misheard the investigating officer due to noise. “I had a word with my IO, I misheard it due to noise and inadvertently the message was posted in the broadcast, ” Malhotra said.
Right after the DCP’s statement began being reported in the media, Zubair’s lawyers slammed the police, calling the incident “scandalous”.
Advocate Soutik Banerjee, who represents Zubair, addressed the media outside the court and said: “We had made arguments and were waiting for the order. The judge had not sat, but I am shocked to see that DCP KPS Malhotra has leaked in the media that our bail application was rejected and 14 days’ judicial custody has been granted. I saw this from the Twitter posts of news channels which are running this news. It is extremely scandalous and it speaks to the status of rule of law in our country today that even before the judicial magistrate has sat and pronounced the order, the police has leaked the order to the media. How KPS Malhotra knows this order is beyond me and this calls for serious introspection,” Banerjee said.
In fact, Zubair’s lawyers had told the court during the bail hearing that the police were leaking material to the media.
This was in reference to a statement circulated by police on WhatsApp at 11.02 am on Saturday which alleged that Rs 2,31,933 had been received by Pravda media and that the source of the transactions had come from various foreign countries.
Advocate Vrinda Grover told the court that investigation has to be to “prosecute a crime and not harass or bismerch someone”. She said that the police were giving updates to the media and this was “a practice the court must deprecate”.
“Unsubstantiated material is thrown in by senior officers. I have read statements of DCP. They have been sent to media. The only bulwark against this is court of law. Your honour was misled when they (police) told that the accused has received it (foreign contributions). AltNews runs under a company under sec. 8. They are saying I (Zubair) am a journalist, I cannot receive FCRA. This is to the company, not to me,” Grover argued.
The police statement that Grover was referring to alleged: “From the analysis of the reply received from Razorpay Payment gateway, it is revealed there are various transactions, in which either the mobile phone number is of outside India or the IP address is of foreign countries and cities… and a total of about Rs 2,31,933 have been received by the Pravda Media.”
The police statement alleged that during social media analysis, it was “noticed that the Twitter handles which had supported the accused Mohammed Zubair and had tweeted in support of him after his arrest were mostly from middle eastern countries like UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait and countries like Pakistan”.
On June 28, when the court had remanded Zubair to 4 days police custody, Grover had argued that she did not receive a copy of the remand application but a television channel had access to the application.
“I don’t even have the remand copy. My juniors are a little active on social media. From a television website channel, they have downloaded it. Police has not supplied it to us even now,” Grover had argued.