A Delhi Court on Tuesday remanded Co-Founder of Alt News Mohammed Zubair to four days police custody after he was arrested yesterday by the Delhi Police for allegedly hurting religious sentiments and promoting enmity through his tweet.
CMM Snigdha Sarvaria observed that Zubair has remained "non-cooperative" and recovery of the devices used for posting the tweet is yet to be made. The order stated,
"Considering that mobile phone/laptop of accused used by him for posting the tweet in question is to be recovered at the instance of accused Mohammed Zubair from his Bangalore residence and that accused Mohammed Zubair has remained non-cooperative and the disclosure statement on record, 04 days PC remand of accused is granted since accused is to be taken to Bangalore."
It added that the submissions with respect to photograph which is a part of the tweet in question being a part of the movie "Kissi Se Na Kehna" of the year 1983 are also of no assistance to him at this stage.
Zubair has been arrested under Section 153 (giving provocation with intent to cause riot) and Section 295 (Injuring or defiling place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class) of the Indian Penal Code. The Police had sought 5 days' remand.
As per Delhi Police, the case has been registered after a complaint was received from a twitter handle, wherein it was alleged that Zubair had tweeted a "questionable image with a purpose to deliberately insult the god of a particular religion."
According to the FIR, Zubair's tweet from 2018 on the renaming of a 'Honeymoon Hotel' after Hindu god Hanuman is an insult of their religion.
Advocate Vrinda Grover, appearing for Zubair, submitted that the image in question is from a Hindi film "Kisi Se Na Kehna", which was made in 1983. She also claimed that several Twitter users had shared the image, however, only Zubair was "targeted" on the basis of his profession (journalism) and religious community.
"Is it their case that if it's the same tweet, many others have said that too, the only distinction between them and my client is a distinction of faith of my name, my work?. Is that the reason why I am being targeted?...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."
She claimed that Zubair was called for questioning in a 2020 FIR against him, however, he was arrested in a different FIR and the remand copy has not been made available to him by the Police. In any case, she submitted that the offences alleged in the FIR are not made out against him.
"It's a free country, people can say whatever they want. I haven't done anything. People are in fact naming a political party and applauding. It is settled law, Section 153 requires two communities...Who does it incite? What is the insult? Many tweeted and still no flutter, no disturbance in the society. Honeymooners and bhramachari are not two groups creating unrest in the society.
How is 295A even invoked in this FIR? The first criteria that they will have to satisfy is destruction, damage or place of worship or sacred object. This is a photograph of a movie. This isn't a place of worship. This is a joke on the honeymooners. Where is the damage?"
As per prosecution, Zubair had edited the image. However, Grover claimed that there is no editing that the accused or anyone else has done.
Grover also objected to the Police demanding Zubair's mobile phone and laptop. She submitted, "This is where the police is abusing its power. If I'm arrested in one case, my laptop and phone is storehouse of my information. As a journalist or even laptop of lawyers, it contains sensitive information. Once devise is received, phishing enquiry begins."
The Public Prosecutor submitted that laptops and instruments from which the tweet in question was posted are necessary for investigation and so, there is requirement of police remand. He claimed that Zubair had deleted all the applications from his phone and arrived with a "blank phone". He added that now a days, it has become a "trend" to outrage religious feelings on social media, to draw attention and become famous.
The Court said,
"The reliance of Ld. Counsel for the accused with respect to Patricia Mukhim Vs. State of Meghalaya & Others, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 258 and Bilal Ahmed Kaloo Vs. State of A.P(1997) 7 SCC 431 with respect to provision U/Sec.153A IPC and 505 IPC are of no assistance as present investigation is going on qua offences U/Sec.153A/295A IPC against accused.
The FIR alleged that the words and the picture used by Zubair against a particular religious community were highly provocative and more than sufficient to incite feeling of hatred amongst people which can be detrimental for maintenance of public tranquillity in the society.
On the other hand, the 2020 case as referred to is pending before the Delhi High Court which concerned a plea moved by Zubair seeking the quashing of the FIR lodged against him on a complaint by a twitter user, Jagdish Singh.
The case pertains to a tweet posted by Zubair, sharing the profile picture of Singh which had him standing with his minor granddaughter, and asking -after blurring the face of the minor girl - if it was appropriate for Singh to use derogatory language in replies while using a profile picture figuring his granddaughter.
It may be noted that Zubair was granted interim protection from arrest vide order dated September 9, 2020 by a single judge bench of Justice Yogesh Khanna which had also directed the Delhi Government and the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Cyber Cell to file a status report on the investigation carried out in this case. The said protection is continuing.
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