The Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms has condemned the harassment of the co-founder of the fact-checker website, Alt News, by the Uttar Pradesh and Delhi Police through inappropriate invoking of legal provisions against hate speech.
THE Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms (‘CJAR’), a judicial watchdog, has expressed shock at the manner in which the Delhi police revealed the contents of the order in the ongoing case of fact-checker website Alt News’s co-founder Mohammad Zubair’s bail, to the media, more than five hours prior to the order being pronounced on July 2.
Around 2 p.m., messages were broadcast by media organisations that Zubair had been denied bail and had been sent to 14 days of judicial custody even though as of 2 p.m., the judge had reserved the order and was yet to return to preside over the Bench.
The Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms (CJAR) issues a statement expressing concerns at the conduct of the Delhi and UP police in @AltNews co-founder Mohammed #Zubair’s case; demands that the police immediately drop the "ill-conceived" charges against him. pic.twitter.com/LWJst00jrm
“It is most shocking that several hours later when the bench actually assembled and the order was pronounced, it was exactly what the police had announced earlier – denial of bail and 14 days judicial custody. The explanation offered by the Deputy Superintendent of Police that “I had a word with my [investigation officer], I misheard it due to noise and inadvertently the message was posted in the broadcast” is bizarre to put it mildly. No effort was made to correct the record when media outlets flashed this information and it was only when the counsels for the petitioner raised the issues did the clarification even come about”, the statement reads.
The CJAR has sought a thorough independent probe by the Delhi High Court into the matter.
“This incident raises serious questions about the circumstances leading up to the pronouncement of the order and the interference of the Delhi Police in the judicial process. It appears that the Delhi Police and the magistrate had a prior backdoor agreement outside of court as to the nature of the order that was to be pronounced. We believe strict action must be taken against officials responsible for this. To reinforce the faith of the public in the judiciary and constitutional governance, the communication between the police and the Judge and the perceived influence of the police over the judicial process, needs a thorough independent probe, that must be conducted forthwith by the Delhi High Court”, the CJAR states.
Besides, it has expressed concerns about the manner in which the Delhi police seek to prosecute Alt-News co-founder Mohammed Zubair based on a 2018 tweet that merely involved remarks on a screenshot from an old Hindi film.
The CJAR also noted the remand order passed by a court in Uttar Pradesh sending Zubair to 14-day judicial custody based on a first information report (‘FIR’) filed on June 1 by the Sitapur District Police in Uttar Pradesh for reportedly calling three Hindutva leaders as ‘hate mongers’. “We feel that in both instances the Delhi and UP police have been inappropriately invoking the law to persecute a fact-checker”, CJAR has said.
“We demand that the constitutional right to liberty of Mr. Zubair be upheld and the ill-conceived charges against him be dropped immediately by the Delhi and UP police”, the statement asserts.
On June 3, a Delhi court denied bail to Zubair in a case concerning a 2018 tweet that allegedly hurt the religious sentiments of the Hindu community. Initially, the FIR, based on a complaint by an anonymous Twitter account with a handful of followers and just one tweet as on June 27, when Zubair was arrested, was lodged under Sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony) and 295A (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs) of the Indian Penal Code (‘IPC’). Later, the police told the court that it 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, to the FIR against Zubair.