THE DELHI High Court Wednesday restrained the Delhi Police from taking coercive action against AltNews co-founder Mohammed Zubair in a case registered against him last month in connection with a tweet.
The order was passed in a petition filed by Zubair through advocate Gunjan Singh seeking quashing of the FIR and a stay on coercive action against him. The plea also sought a copy of the FIR and action against the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) chairperson Priyank Kanoongo, who is the complainant in the case, and a Twitter user whom Zubair had responded to on Twitter.
The NCPCR complaint had referred to a tweet shared by Zubair on August 6, which had the photo of a minor girl, with her face blurred out, during an online spat he was having with her father, the Twitter user in question.
During the hearing, New Delhi’s Standing Counsel (Criminal) Rahul Mehra informed the court that the FIR was registered on August 9 under Sections 67 and 67-A of IT Act — the provisions pertain to publishing or transmitting obscene material and material containing sexually explicit act in electronic form, respectively — “purely” on the version of the complainant, NCPCR.
Mehra also informed the court that investigation is yet to begin fully in the case but the police has written to Twitter about an “objectionable” tweet made by a third person to ascertain whether that user has any connection with Zubair.
The single bench of Justice Yogesh Khanna, while ordering Twitter to cooperate with police and expedite the reply to their queries, also directed the investigating agency to provide Zubair a copy of the FIR so he can respond to the allegations. While issuing a notice to the police and NCPCR, the court asked the investigating agency to submit a status report within eight weeks.
Senior Advocate Colin Gonsalves, who represented Zubair, earlier submitted that two identical FIRs have been filed in the same matter in Chhattisgarh and Delhi, arguing the same was not permitted as per the laid down law. He also submitted that the FIR does not even remotely disclose the offence and described the Twitter user Zubair had a spat with as a “serial abuser” online.
In connection with Zubair’s tweet, Kanoongo had tweeted that the NCPCR has taken “cognizance of the case of threatening and torturing a girl child through Twitter” and written to both Twitter and law enforcement authorities. Zubair in his petition said he “merely shared an image of [the Twitter user] standing with a minor girl whose face was pixelated and calling him out on his foul, shameful and abusive behaviour on social media”.
During the hearing, Mehra submitted that he was informed the picture uploaded by Zubair was not blurred; however, he added that he would again seek clarification about it.
Advocate Anindita Pujari, who represented NCPCR, objected to making Kanoongo personally as a party in the case and submitted that the complaint was made by the statutory body, which was performing its duty under the POCSO Act. It was argued that Section 31 of the Commissions for Protection of Child Rights Act, 2005 grants protection to Commission or any of its members from any suit, prosecution or any legal proceeding for anything done in good faith. However, Gonsalves submitted that Kanoongo had tweeted about the case from his personal Twitter handle to harass Zubair.
Mehra, during the hearing, also commented that AltNews had been doing yeoman service and has “ very legitimate space” in the country. However, he added that the same does not give license to Zubair to commit any illegality, if that is the case.
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