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'Political Parties Are Open for Criticism': Delhi Court Grants Bail to Mohammed Zubair

Bail has been granted on the condition of a Rs 50,000 bond with one surety, and he cannot leave the country without the court's permission.

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New Delhi: A Delhi court has granted bail to journalist and AltNews cofounder Mohammed Zubair on Friday, in the case pertaining to a 2018 tweet featuring a screenshot from a movie.

Bail has been granted on the condition of a Rs 50,000 bond with one surety, and he cannot leave the country without the court’s permission, LiveLaw reported.

While granting bail, Additional Sessions Judge (ASJ) Devender Kumar Jangla observed:

“Democracy is a government by the people via open discussion. The democracy can neither work not prosper unless people go out to share their views. Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India gives freedom of speech and expression to its citizens. Undoubtedly free speech is a proper foundation of a democratic society. A free exchange of ideas, dissemination of information without restrains, dissemination of knowledge, airing of different viewpoints, debating and forming one’s own views and expressing them, are the basic indicator of a free society. This freedom alone makes it possible for people to formulate their own views and opinions on a proper bases and to exercise their social, economic and political rights in a free society in an informed manner.”

The judge went on to state that the tweet in question should not hurt religious sentiments:

“Hindu religion is one of the oldest religion and most tolerant. The followers of the Hindu religion are also tolerant. …naming of an Institute, Facility or Organization or child in the name of Hindi Deity on the face of it, is not violative of Section 153A and 295A IPC, unless the same is done with malice/guilty intention. The alleged act would come into the category of offence only when it is done with a guilty intention.”

The judge also noted that Zubair was passing remarks on the ruling party in his tweet, and that:

“In Indian democracy the political parties are open for criticism. The political parties are not shying away from public to face the criticism of its policies. The voice of dissent is necessary for health democracy. Therefore, merely for the criticism of any political parties it is not justified to invoke section 153A and 295A IPC.”

ASJ Jangla also said that the police had failed to identify the Twitter user who had lodged the initial complainant against Zubair after claiming to be offended by the tweet.

On the face of it, according to the court, documents submitted by Zubair also “shows due diligence taken by him as per Section 39 of FCRA”.

Zubair was arrested in this case in June 27 and has been in police custody since. He had moved a sessions court for bail after chief metropolitan magistrate Snigdha Sarvaria denied his bail plea on July 2.

The journalist is currently facing arrest in multiple cases. With Friday’s verdict, he has secured bail in two of them. His bail hearing in the third case, filed in Lakhimpur Kheri, is scheduled for Saturday. In the Sitapur case, has been granted interim bail until September 7.

On Thursday, Zubair moved the Supreme Court asking for the six FIRs the Uttar Pradesh police have registered against him, for his tweets, to be quashed.

The Delhi police arrested Zubair on June 27 for a 2018 tweet in which he had shared a screenshot from a 1983 Hindi film. He was arrested under Sections 153 (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, language, etc.) and 295 (deliberate and malicious act intended to outrage religious feelings) of the Indian Penal Code. Later, the police added charges for violations of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act – a.k.a.  FCRA.

The 2018 tweet featured a screenshot from the movie Kissi Se Na Kehna. The owner of a Twitter account with the handle @balajikijaiin, but with no other identifying information, lodged a complaint because they claimed the tweet had hurt their religious sentiments. The account no longer exists, but an investigation by The Wire found that the arrest was the end of a years-long campaign by a network of anonymous and inauthentic accounts linked to Vikash Ahir, state president of the Hindu Yuva Vahini (HYV) and co-convenor of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) in Gujarat.

The AltNews cofounder’s arrest and the cases against him have been met with criticism form an array of individuals and entities but within and outside India – especially once it became clear that his tweet was just a screenshot from a scene in a real film.

While he was in judicial custody, Zubair was ‘arrested’ on the cases filed in Uttar Pradesh’s Sitapur and Lakhimpur Kheri.

The police threw several charges at Zubair – coinciding in time roughly with the wake of Zubair having popularised Nupur Sharma’s controversial statements on Prophet Muhammad. Former Supreme Court judge Madan B. Lokur has described the police’s actions as a “hounding” designed to keep him in confinement “for one reason or another for as long as possible”.

The cases in Uttar Pradesh relate to complaints that Zubair made sarcastic comments against a news channel anchor, hurt Hindu sentiments, made objectionable comments on deities and uploaded provocative posts. The charges against him include promoting enmity and deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings.

According to Scroll, three of the cases are based on complaints by Hindutva leaders.