Delhi court denies bail to Mohammed Zubair, sends him to police custody till July 1

Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair was arrested late on June 27 for a 2018 tweet under charges of allegedly hurting religious sentiments.
File image of Mohammed Zubair, co founder of Alt News
File image of Mohammed Zubair, co founder of Alt News
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A Delhi court on Tuesday, June 28, denied bail to Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair, who was arrested late on Monday night for a 2018 tweet under charges of allegedly hurting religious sentiments. After hearing arguments, Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Snigdha Sarvaria of the Patiala House Court sent Zubair to four days in police custody. The Delhi police had sought five days' police custody. 

The Public Prosecutor appearing for Delhi police told the court that Zubair allegedly used controversial tweets to “hurt religious feelings in an effort to get fame.” The police also argued that Zubair has deliberately formatted his phone and is not willing to surrender his laptop to the police. 

Appearing for Zubair, advocate Vrinda Grover countered the Delhi police’s claim that Zubair shared an edited photograph and said that the image that is being used as a reason to arrest Zubair is a still from a 1983 Hindi movie called Kisi Se Na Kehna, featuring Farooq Sheikh and Deepti Naval. 

“This isn't a place of worship. This is a joke on the honeymooners. Where is the damage?” Grover argued before the court, adding that many other users shared the image but only Zubair has been arrested after a Twitter user flagged the 2018 tweet to the police on June 19. 

“Their investigation is based on a tweet. If the idea is that this man has to be harassed, the law has to be abused, then yes the police are doing exactly that. You call me for a different case, arrest me in a different case,” Grover argued, as per Live Law. 

“Whom does it (the tweet) incite? What is the insult? Many have tweeted the image and there was no flutter, no disturbance in the society. Honeymooners and bhramachari (celibate) are not two groups creating unrest in the society,” Grover submitted before the court. 

Advocate Vrinda Grover submitted that Zubair is being targeted for his professional duties as a journalist and for speaking against those in power. 

“Can my liberty be restrained even for a day because I am somebody who doesn't agree with someone in power? But that's not how democracy functions. Remand cannot be mechanical if it's not made at all. That is a professional duty of a journalist to speak truth to power and is being targeted because of that,” Grover said. 

“Law cannot be used to silence a citizen. If I have committed a crime, punish me. But if the police are acting with malice and a malafide intent then this court cannot turn a blind eye,” Grover submitted before the court. 

Zubair was arrested by the Delhi police late on Monday night and was remanded to a day’s custody. While he was summoned for questioning in a 2020 POCSO case, when he appeared before the Delhi police’s cyber crime cell, he was arrested under charges for allegedly hurting religious sentiments through a tweet he had uploaded in 2018. 

The police have said that a Twitter user on June 19 had flagged a 2018 tweet by Zubair and claimed that it insulted his religious sentiments. The police registered a case against Zubair under sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, language etc.) and 295A (deliberate and malicious act intended to outrage religious feelings) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

Alt News co-founder Pratik Sinha alleged that Zubair was arrested in a case for which no notice was given by the police, which is mandatory under law for the sections under which he has been held. "Zubair was called today by Special Cell, Delhi for investigation in a 2020 case for which he already had a protection against arrest from High Court. However, today at around 6.45 pm, we were told he has been arrested in some other FIR for which no notice was given which is mandatory under law for the section under which he has been arrested. "Nor FIR copy is being given to us despite repeated requests," Sinha said in a statement posted on Twitter.

The Delhi police claimed that Zubair's tweets were getting re-tweeted and it appeared that there was a “brigade of social media entities who indulged in hate mongering,” thereby leading to a “possible ramification on communal harmony and which was against the maintenance of public tranquillity.”

Opposition leaders, including former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, journalists and activists have slammed Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government over Zubair's arrest. The Editors Guild of India and the Press Club of India have also issued statements condemning his arrest and called for his immediate release. 

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