Additional Sessions Judge, Devendra Kumar Jangala, while granting bail, observed that dissent is necessary for a healthy democracy.
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A Delhi court earlier today granted bail to Alt News co-founder and fact-checker Mohammed Zubair in a first information report (‘FIR’) filed by the Delhi police for allegedly hurting the religious sentiments of the Hindu community. Additional Sessions Judge (‘ASJ’) Devendra Kumar Jangala passed the order admitting Zubair on bail on furnishing a bond in the sum of Rs. 50,000 with one surety in the like amount to the satisfaction of the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate. The judge said that further custodial integration of Zubair was not needed. However, Zubair will not walk out of jail, as he is yet to get bail in the FIRs lodged against him in Uttar Pradesh.
The ASJ also directed that Zubair will not leave the country without the court’s permission, and that he will ensure that his tweets or retweets or any material posted on social media does not even touch boundaries of offences punishable under Sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on ground of religion, race, etc.) and 295A (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class) of the Indian Penal Code (‘IPC’).
On July 2, a magistrate had dismissed his bail plea and sent him to 14-days’ judicial custody in the case.
On June 19, an anonymous Twitter user, created in October 2021, in its first tweet had taken objection to a tweet posted by Zubair in 2018,which showed an image of a hotel signboard repainted from “Honeymoon Hotel” to “Hanuman Hotel”. This led the police to lodge an FIR against Zubair after over four years of the allegedly offensive tweet under Sections 153A and 295A of the IPC. Later, the police added Sections 120B (criminal conspiracy) and 201 (causing disappearance of evidence of offence, or giving false information to screen offender) of the IPC, and Section 35 (punishment for contravention of any provision of the Act) of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (‘FCRA’), to the FIR.
Giving reasons for the bail, ASJ Jangala observed that police failed to record the statement of the complainant under Section 161 (examination of witnesses by police) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (‘CrPC’), let alone establish his identity.
“The investigation of the offence of Indian Penal Code are governed by the principle laid down in Criminal Procedure Code, 1973. Police authorities are bound to proceed as per the CrPC”, the judge said.
He highlighted that the tweet in question was made in 2018 but till the date of registration of the FIR in 2022, no other complaint was received that the tweet of the accused caused offence to the Hindu community or showed disrespect to Lord Hanuman. He added that Zubair had posted an image of a scene in the Hindi movie Kisi se na Kehna released in 1983.
“This movie was certified by the Central Board of Film Certification, which is a statutory body of the Government of India and is available for the public view since then. No complaint is stated to have been filed till today that the said scene of the movie has hurt the feelings of a particular community of society”, the judge observed.
On the indirect reference to a ruling party, the judge noted, “In Indian democracy, the political parties are open to their criticism. The voice of dissent is necessary for a healthy democracy. Hence, merely for criticism of any political party, it is not justified to invoke sections 153A and 295A”.
On section 35 of the FCRA, the court noted that the Alt News website specifically mentions that only Indian citizens having accounts with Indian banks can contribute. The material placed on record by the accused prima facie shows due diligence taken by him under Section 39 of FCRA, the judge held.