The Supreme Court on Friday granted interim bail for five days to Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair in a case registered by the Sitapur Police in UP for hurting religious sentiments through a tweet in which he called some Hindu religious leaders “hate-mongers”.
Issuing notice, a vacation bench of Justices Indira Banerjee and J K Maheshwari granted interim bail “for a period of five days from today or until further orders” of the regular bench.
The interim bail, it said, is based 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”.
Zubair, however, will continue to be in judicial custody in another case on similar charges registered against him by the Delhi Police for a 2018 tweet.
Opposing the plea for bail and quashing the FIR, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who appeared for state of UP, contended that Zubair had suppressed facts in his affidavit filed on Thursday evening.
Referring to Senior Advocate Colin Gonsalves, who appeared for Zubair, Mehta said: “Yesterday, my learned friend mentioned that there is a threat to life. FIR is of June 1, quashing petition rejected on June 10, bail was rejected yesterday. But he filed an affidavit yesterday evening suppressing all this… (such) conduct…cannot be condoned”.
“He is seeking bail here without saying that bail is rejected by a speaking order by the competent court…This is clear suppression,” he said. Mehta was referring to the Allahabad High Court order, which refused to quash the FIR in UP, and the Sitapur court order of Thursday dismissing Zubair’s bail plea and remanding him in police custody.
On the Sitapur case, Mehta submitted that “this is not about one tweet. It is whether he is part of a syndicate, which is regularly posting such tweets with intention to destabilise the country”. The SG said that after the tweet, there was a law and order situation and that’s why there is an investigation.
Calling Zubair “a habitual offender”, Mehta said that his “overall conduct is being investigated. He is a habitual offender, there are six other cases against him”.
He pointed out that one of those named in Zubair’s tweet, Yati Narsinghanand, was arrested (for a hate speech in Haridwar). “Nobody is defending Yati Narsinghanand,” the SG said before adding that the conduct of the petitioner is important, too, since the appeal is for discretionary relief.
Mehta also submitted that Zubair had “deleted many objectionable tweets”.
Responding to the SG, Gonsalves said he had not got a copy of Thursday’s Sitapur order. He said the FIR “deserves to be quashed because even if I accept everything, there is no criminal case; that was my argument before the Allahabad High Court, that is my argument here”.
Gonsalves pointed out that the charge is under IPC section 295A — deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs. “I admit the tweet. Police need not take me into custody to investigate,” he said.
Explaining the tweet, the senior counsel said: “I’m not speaking against any religion. I’m only speaking about hate speech that has appeared in respect of which the police have arrested these persons for hate speech.”
He said “they have arrested persons for hate speech of the most horrific kind. They released them on bail…and the hate speech started again…”. Pointing out that all those who delivered hate speeches were released on bail, he said: “And I who tweet this, a secular tweeter, is in jail.”
Stating that those named by him had been prosecuted for hate speech, he said: “So when I say hate-mongers, I’m not wrong”.
Referring to reports about the persons named by him being released on bail, he said: “See, My Lord, what this country has come to, the stage which it has come to! The person who exposes it is in jail and the persons who are continuing it are already in bail.”
Gonsalves also referred to reports about Attorney General K K Venugopal granting sanction to initiate contempt of court proceedings against Yati Narsinghanand for alleged remarks against the judiciary. “I exposed this kind of venomous language against the court, against judges, against the constitution, and I’m in jail for that,” Gonsalves submitted.
“I, who captured these hate speeches and sent them to police stations and said kindly act, I’m in jail…so where is the case made out against me?” he asked on behalf of Zubair.
Gonsalves said Zubair is “defending the Constitution and no one should speak the kind of things that I just showed”. He said on behalf of Zubair: “My life is endangered. That’s why I have moved the court. There are many advising people to kill me, advising the police to torture me.”
Additional Solicitor General S V Raju, appearing for the investigation officer in the Sitapur case, said Zubair had not written to the police as was claimed by Gonsalves but had posted a tweet.
The Sitapur case against Zubair is based on a complaint lodged by Hindu Lion Army district president Bhagwan Sharan who alleged that Zubair had referred to Bajrang Muni as a “hate-monger” in a tweet in May. According to the FIR, Zubair also insulted Yati Narsinghanand and Swami Anand Swaroop on Twitter.
“If you are such a nice person as is sought to be depicted, you would not have tweeted. What was the need for the tweet? You could have just sent a letter to the police. The fact that he has tweeted destroys his case,” ASG Raju contended.
“Today, prime facie an offence is made out. The court below has said an offence is made out. Therefore his bail is rejected…Remand has been granted. That remand commences today. Just to see that he is not taken on remand, and we do not get valuable evidence, which is lying in Bengaluru, this application is made so that if the proceedings are stayed, that evidence can be destroyed,” he contended.
Raju said that ordinarily, there is no urgency to move a quashing petition during court vacation. But the bench said: “He has been deprived of his liberty. Then you cannot say there is no urgency”.
SG Mehta, meanwhile, said Zubair claims he will be killed and asked: “You are in police protection. Where is the question of anybody killing… The Allahabad High Court order is on June 10. Petition is filed on June 15 and suddenly he mentions to sensationalise, that my life will be taken away, that I will be killed.”
ASG Raju described spiritual leader Bajrang Muni as a “respected religious leader in Sitapur with a large following”. “When you call a religious leader a hate-monger, it raises problems. He has hurt the religious sentiments of a large number of followers of Bajrangi baba. Whether it’s intentional or not is a matter of investigation,” he submitted.
Raju said: “So there’s prima facie a case made out according to me under (IPC) sections 295A and 153A of the IPC… We are in the midst of an investigation… According to me, if there is a prima facie case, and the High Court has also found that it is premature for him to move this application,” the court “may consider that this is not a fit case to entertain the application”.
After the court delivered its order, Raju urged it to ensure that interim bail comes into effect only after Zubair is taken to Bengaluru for investigation. Justice Banerjee responded: “Have we stayed the investigation? We have not said it will come in the way of seizure. We said he should not tamper.”