How can we ask a journalist not to tweet, asks Supreme Court while directing immediate release of Mohammed Zubair

The bench of Justices D.Y.Chandrachud, A.S. Bopanna and Surya Kant disbanded the Special Investigation Team formed by the Uttar Pradesh government, to probe pending FIRs against Zubair, besides transferring all FIRs against him to Delhi.


THE Supreme Court earlier today directed the immediate release of fact checking website Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair on interim bail in six first information reports (‘FIRs’) registered against him in Uttar Pradesh. It also directed Tihar Jail, where Zubair is currently lodged, to release him by 6 p.m. today. Besides, the court also transferred all the six FIRs to the Delhi Police, by which he was first arrested last month. In the Delhi FIR, a Sessions Court on July 15 granted him bail.

A bench comprising Justices D.Y. Chandrachud, A.S. Bopanna and Surya Kant passed the order to this effect after observing that there was no justification to keep Zubair in jail. It has also granted liberty to Zubair to approach the Delhi High Court seeking quashing of the Delhi FIR.

“Existence of powers of arrest must be distinguished from the exercise of powers of arrest which must be used sparingly”, the bench noted.

The bench also disbanded the Special Investigation Team (‘SIT’) formed by the Uttar Pradesh government to probe the FIRs against Zubair.

The bench also directed that future FIRs concerning the same subject matter will also be transferred to Delhi. In an additional FIR in Muzaffarnagar in UP, in which the charge sheet has been filed, the bench ordered that the proceedings be transferred to the Patiala House Courts in Delhi.

The bench observed that the Delhi Police has submitted a comprehensive status report showing the course of investigation, tweets which form part of the probe and search and seizure which was carried out on premises of petitioner. 

“It is evident that probe by special Delhi Police cell is a comprehensive investigation which looks at the gamut of tweets by the petitioner”, it added. 

It also turned down the request made by the UP government to bar Zubair from tweeting further.

“How can we ask a journalist not to tweet. This is like telling an advocate not to argue. We cannot anticipatorily interdict him from exercising his right to free speech”, Justice Chandrachud told senior advocate Garima Prashad, who was appearing for the UP government.

Faced with multiple FIRs over his tweets, Zubair had approached the court seeking to quash all the six FIRs which have been transferred to an SIT by the UP government. In the alternative, Zubair requested the court to club all the FIRs with an FIR filed in Delhi, in which he was first arrested on June 27. In addition, he sought interim bail in all six FIRs.

Earlier this month, the UP government constituted a two-member SIT to probe six cases lodged against Zubair. Of the six cases, two cases are lodged in Hathras district, while one case is registered in Sitapur, Lakhimpur Kheri, Ghaziabad and Chandauli each. In the Sitapur case, Zubair was granted interim bail by the Supreme Court. However, he was soon thereafter sent to 14-day judicial custody in the Lakhimpur case.

Earlier, Zubair was sent to 14-day judicial custody by a Hathras court. He is facing charges of allegedly hurting the religious sentiments of the Hindu community under Sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on ground of religion, race, etc.), 295A (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class) and 298 (uttering, words, etc., with deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of any person) of the Indian Penal Code (‘IPC’), and Section 67 (publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form) of the Information Technology Act.

The Delhi FIR is under Sections 153A and 295A of the IPC. Later, the Delhi 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, to the FIR.

Advocate Vrinda Grover appeared for Zubair while the UP government was represented by Additional Advocate General for the state, Prashad.

Story to be updated with the Court’s order.

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