The Supreme Court, on Wednesday, July 20, granted interim bail to Mohammed Zubair, the co-founder of Alt News, a fact-checking website, in all six cases filed against him in Uttar Pradesh for allegedly hurting religious sentiments through his Twitter posts.
Further, the apex court disbanded the Special Investigation Team (SIT) formed by UP and underlined that there was no justification for keeping him in continued custody.
Why Was Mohammed Zubair Arrested?
Zubair was arrested by Delhi Police's Intelligence Fusion & Strategic Operations (IFSO) unit, which handles cyber crime and forensics cases. He was arrested on June 27 and was released from the Tihar Jail on Wednesday evening.
According to The Indian Express, the police said a First Information Report (FIR) was filed against him concerning the complaint under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) sections 153-A (promoting enmity between different groups) and 295-A (malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings).
In June 2022, Zubair highlighted comments made by the then Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson Nupur Sharma on the Prophet, which triggered condemnation from many countries, including those from the Gulf. The outrage prompted the Center to distance itself from Sharma's comments and the ruling BJP to suspend her.
The alt news co-founder's arrest was slammed by the opposition, including Congress, TMC, RJD, AIMIM and the Left parties, which accused the BJP-led NDA government of cracking down on those who "expose its hate speech and fake propaganda".
What Did The SC Say?
In an order given in the court, the bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, Surya Kant and AS Bopanna said that the petitioner had been subjected to a comprehensive investigation by the Delhi Police, and the court finds no reason to deprive Zubair of his liberty.
According to Mint, the court noted that there is no justification for keeping him in continued custody and subjecting him to detention. A consolidated investigation is required, said the SC, as it clubbed all the FIR against Zubair and transferred the cases from UP to Delhi. The apex court directed the journalist to be bailed in all the FIRs after depositing a bail bond of ₹20,000 at the Patiala House court in Delhi.
Further, the court transferred the investigation in six FIRs in UP to the Special Cell of the Delhi Police as they involved the same alleged offensive tweets. Of the six cases, two are registered in Hathras, one each in Muzaffarnagar, Ghaziabad, Lakhimpur Kheri and Sitapur districts. The case in Chandauli was filed against Zubair by an employee of Sudarshan News for allegedly spreading misinformation about the news outlet.
The bench stated that other than the seven current cases, any new FIR in future on the same tweets will also stand transferred to the Delhi Police Special Cell.
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