The bench described Zubair’s continued incarceration in successive FIRs, despite getting bail in a similar case, as a “vicious cycle”.
EARLIER today, the Supreme Court interdicted the Uttar Pradesh police from taking any precipitate steps against fact-checking website Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair without the leave of the court in connection with the five first information reports (‘FIRs’) against him in Uttar Pradesh. A division bench comprising Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and A.S. Bopanna said it would hear the matter on Wednesday on the aspect of quashing the FIRs and the grant of interim bail.
Justice Chandrachud, heading the bench, orally remarked that the contents of all the FIRs are similar. He added what seems to be happening is that as soon as Zubair gets bail in one case, he is remanded in another. In his words, this vicious cycle is continuing.
The bench took up the matter for hearing earlier today after advocate Vrinda Grover, for Zubair, mentioned the Article 32 petition before the Chief Justice of India (‘CJI’) for urgent hearing, who in turn directed the listing of the matter before a bench led by Justice Chandrachud. Grover then mentioned the matter before Justice Chandrachud after liberty granted by the CJI to do so. Since the matter was not listed for hearing formally, and no notice was issued, the bench said it would consider interim bail on Wednesday.
Grover contended that there was a threat to Zubair’s life. She added that all FIRs are nothing but an abuse of the process of law. She read out tweets awarding cash prizes for lodging as many FIRs as possible against Zubair. She contended that as soon as Zubair gets bail in one FIRs, the production warrant arrives from a different district.
Solicitor General of India, Tushar Mehta, for the Uttar Pradesh government, submitted that he had no instructions in the matter, and also that he got the copy of the petition just a few minutes back. He, however, submitted that a competent court be allowed to deal with the issues of Zubair’s police or judicial remand.
Faced with multiple FIRs over his tweets, Zubair has approached the court seeking to quash all the five FIRs which have been transferred to a Special Investigation Team (‘SIT’) formed by the UP government. In the alternative, Zubair has 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 has sought interim bail in all six FIRs.
Last week, 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 Muzaffarnagar 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.
In the Delhi FIR, a Sessions Court on July 15 granted him bail. This 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.