In a relief to Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair, the Supreme Court granted him interim bail in all the six cases registered against him in Uttar Pradesh. A bench headed by Justice Chandrachud on Wednesday, July 20, said that there is no justification to keep Zubair in jail when he is being investigated in a similar case by the Delhi police and has secured interim bail in that case. The apex court also ordered that the FIRs registered in Uttar Pradesh should be clubbed and handled by one investigating authority, reported Live Law. This interim bail order will be applicable to any future FIRs filed under similar charges.
The Supreme Court has also ordered the Superintendent of Tihar Jail to ensure that Zubair is released before 6 pm on Wednesday. Zubair has been granted interim bail against a bail bond of Rs 20,000 in each FIR. “The investigation into the (Uttar Pradesh) FIRs shall stand transferred from the Uttar Pradesh Police to the Special Cell of Delhi Police, as a consequence of which, the SIT constituted by UP Police DGP shall stand disbanded,” the Supreme Court said in its order pronounced on Wednesday.
The court noted that Zubair has been subjected to a comprehensive investigation by the Delhi police in connection with the 2018 case, and so it “finds no reason for his deprivation of personal liberty to sustain.”
“In the present case, there is no justification to keep him in continued custody any further and subject him to diverse proceedings when the gravamen of allegations arises from the Tweets which forms part of investigation by Delhi Police,” the Supreme Court said.
While the court said it is not quashing the cases against Zubair, the apex court has granted him the option to move Delhi High Court with the plea to quash the cases. The SC also added that proceedings in connection with the FIRs registered against Zubair will be before the Delhi High Court. “While we have not quashed the FIR, we clarify that we have granted liberty to the petitioner to move Delhi High Court to seek quashing of the FIRs,” the SC said.
The SC also rejected the Uttar Pradesh government’s request to stop him from tweeting. “How can we tell a journalist that he will not write?” asked Justice Chandrachud. “We cannot stop him from tweeting. We cannot anticipatorily interdict him from exercising his right of free speech. If he violates law by tweeting something, then he will be answerable to the law.”
The Supreme Court was hearing a plea by Zubair to quash five FIRs registered against him in Uttar Pradesh, where he has been booked under charges of outraging religious sentiments for various tweets. Zubair had asked that the FIRs either be quashed or they be combined with the Delhi police FIR filed against him over a 2018 tweet. He had said in his plea that all the FIRs filed in UP are the subject matter of the FIR which is being probed by the Delhi Police Special Cell. Zubair had also challenged the constitution of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) by the UP government to probe these cases.
In an earlier hearing, the Supreme Court had directed the Uttar Pradesh police not to take any “precipitative steps” against Zubair in the five cases he is facing in Uttar Pradesh. A bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and AS Bopanna had also observed that there has been a “vicious cycle” of police action against the fact-checker. “What seems to be happening is the moment he got bail in Delhi, he got bail in Sitapur, the moment that happens, there is another FIR or he is produced in another FIR,” the bench orally observed.
Zubair was arrested on June 27, 2022, after he was summoned by Delhi Police for questioning in connection with one case but was then booked in a different case and accused of trying to cause communal disharmony and arrested on the basis of that FIR. Since then, he has been booked in a total of seven cases and has obtained bail in two of them. All of these cases are under charges of outraging religious sentiments.