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New Delhi: A Delhi Court on Saturday, July 2, denied bail to Alt News‘s co-founder Mohammed Zubair, who was arrested recently by the Delhi Police for allegedly hurting religious sentiments and promoting enmity through his tweet made in 2018, according to Livelaw.in.
Chief metropolitan magistrate Snigdha Sarvaria of Patiala House Court has remanded him to 14-day judicial custody. His four-day police custody ended on Saturday, July 2.
Special public prosecutor Atul Srivastava, appearing for Delhi Police told the court that fresh charges – Section 120B (criminal conspiracy) and 201 (causing disappearance of evidence of offence) of the Indian Penal Code and Section 35 of Foreign Contribution Regulation) Act – had been added against Zubair
He went on to add that the accused had accepted money through Razorpay payment gateway from Pakistan, Syria and other countries, which required further investigation.
Earlier, Mohammed Zubair’s counsel Soutik Banerjee on Saturday, July 2 afternoon, had dismissed reports by news outlets that his client’s bail had been rejected even before the court had pronounced its order.
Banerjee held Delhi Police DCP (IFSO) K.P.S. Malhotra responsible for the “leak” given to the media. The chief metropolitan magistrate Snigdha Sarvaria was scheduled to pronounce its order at 4 pm on Saturday, July 2. However, the bail order only came at 7 pm.
News outlets reporting on the issue had said the court had rejected the bail plea and sent Zubair to 14 days in judicial custody. Some of the outlets soon retracted reports and tweets, after Banerjee confirmed that the order was yet to be passed.
Delhi’s Patiala House Court rejects the bail plea of Alt News co-founder Mohd Zubair, grants 14-day Judicial Custody pic.twitter.com/qnJtvBmvwP
— ANI (@ANI) July 2, 2022
Banerjee had denied the reports and raised concern about the “leak”. “It is extremely scandalous and speaks volumes of rule of law in the country that even before Judge has sat, police has leaked to media,” Livelaw. in quoted Banerjee as saying.
Advocate Soutik Banerjee, Zubair’s lawyer denies the news of the Court denying bail to him. He says “It is extremely scandalous and speaks volume of rule of law in Country that even before Judge has sat, police has leaked to media.” pic.twitter.com/HMzPstLtsI
— Live Law (@LiveLawIndia) July 2, 2022
In response, Malhotra had said, “I had a word with my IO [investigation officer], I misheard it due to noise and inadvertently the message was posted in the broadcast.”
Earlier during the day, Delhi Police produced Zubair before the court on the expiry of his five-day custodial interrogation. Police told the court he was not required for custodial interrogation but sought his judicial custody.
Following the police plea, advocate Vrinda Grover, appearing for the accused, moved a bail application before the court on the ground that her client was not required for the investigation any further and said “I (Zubair) am not some terrorist that they need to secure my presence.”
Grover opposed the police plea seeking judicial custody and said, “We are not living in a police state. Till they demonstrate a prima facie case, if it’s made out, I’ll submit to law. But if they don’t, it’s not a police state.”
She claimed that since the investigation pertaining to section 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc) is over, the police was accusing Zubair of accepting money from certain countries.
“I (Zubair) am making a statement: I was not taking the money. It was the company”, the counsel said.
The court was misled when told that the accused has received foreign contributions, she said.
“Alt News runs under a company under sec 8. They are saying I am a journalist, I cannot receive FCRA. This is to the company, not to me. It hasn’t gone into my account. I am making a categorical statement”, she said.
Grover further told the court that the phone seized by the police was not of the time when the tweets were made.
Grover told the court that the entire exercise was mala fide in nature and was a non prosecutable action of FIR, which started from a story of four-year-old tweet.
“Is it a crime to change my mobile phone or sim card? Is it a crime to reformat my phone? Or is it a crime to be clever. None of this is offence under Penal Code. If you don’t like someone, that’s okay but you can’t cast aspersion on a person of being clever”, she told the court.
She claimed that there was likelihood of tampering by police, adding that till date the agency had not given the hash value (a fixed length variable, created using Mathematical Hash Function to check integrity of a digital data or device) of the phone.
“Tweet says March 2018, Twitter for Android. Everybody understands that this tweet was done from Android phone. It couldn’t have been done from a laptop”, she said.
“This case is a dead end,” she said.
Zubair reiterated that his phone was stolen by an unidentified individual riding a bike, and he had lodged a complaint with the police in 2021.
Grover said there was a need of an enquiry into the person tweeting about Zubair’s tweet and how it got picked for the complaint.
“My tweet is an image of a film. I haven’t said a word. My tweet doesn’t refer to any religion or religious group. It doesn’t say anything inciteful for any God.” stated Grover. She added, “You have a problem with the film, sue CBFC. If we have lost any sense of humour then even penal code will not help us.”
On the tweet being from a movie, public prosecutor Srivastava countered, “There are other movies also where there are many vulgar things Can we upload anything we want. There are many things?”
He said the police are still investigating and may drop some offences or add some new offences.
Referring to Zubair’s tweet, saying he intentionally said “Before 2014” and “After 2014”.
“Why have you said this?”, Srivastava questioned.
On court’s query regarding what further investigation was left, the prosecutor said the police needed time to find out how much money was received by Zubair from which country and person(s).
Zubair was earlier booked under section 153 (wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot) and 295 (injuring or defiling place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class) of IPC. Section 295A (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs) was also invoked against him later.
(With PTI inputs)