After 23 days of imprisonment, Alt News co-founder and fact-checker Mohammed Zubair was released on bail on 20 July, on the directions of the Supreme Court. Speaking to The Quint, Zubair's lawyer Vrinda Grover, who represented him in the case, said that the court's verdict was a message to the lower courts as well as the police.
"The verdict is telling the subordinate judiciary that they are the first line of defense of civil liberties. So, when someone is placed in front of you, simply because the police asks for remand...you must scrutinise, if a prima facie case is made out; and if is not, give bail," Grover said.
She added that this wasn't followed in Zubair's case.
"We saw the subordinate judiciary rejecting bail applications, whereas prima facie, no case was made out."Vrinda Grover, Mohammed Zubair's lawyer
In the bail verdict, the SC also combined all the FIRs against Zubair and moved all the cases from UP to Delhi.
"No justification to keep him in continued custody and subject him to endless rounds of custody," the apex court had said in its verdict.
'SC Must Set Bail Guidelines for Lower Courts'
Grover said that the SC had made similar observations about bail being the norm and jail being the exception in previous cases as well.
"Clearly, it is time for the SC to not only say this in judgments but also set down clear guidelines. Otherwise, judgments that have repeatedly said that bail should be the norm and jail should be the exception can't be enforced. Very clear guidelines have to be laid down for the district judiciary to grant bail where it is deserved and to ensure that personal liberty must remain sacred," she said.
"Zubair suffered incarceration for 23 days. Why should he have suffered? That is the question that we must ask. Why even one day of custody?" Grover asked.
'Calling Out Hate Doesn't Mean Incitement'
Grover also contested allegations of Zubair's tweets being inciteful or provocative.
"Zubair has not crossed the line where you fall foul of the law and incite hatred or ill-will," she said.
"However, there is a deliberate attempt being made to create confusion in people's minds. When any citizen calls out misinformation or false propaganda, that is the exercise of a fundamental duty of a citizen in an independent country," Grover added.
Grover termed Zubair "an important foot-soldier of Indian democracy."
"All of us form our opinions based on the information that is circulating. Information isn't just circulating through newspapers today. It's also circulating on social media in a big way. That information must be authentic, accurate, and truthful. And (ensuring that) is the role of a fact-checker."Vrinda Grover, Mohammed Zubair's lawyer
Zubair has flagged multiple cases of provocative speech, and in May, his tweet calling out now-suspended BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma for her remarks in a Times Now debate got enormous traction. It led to several countries across the world questioning the BJP government, and eventually, the suspension of Sharma from the party.
"Suppose there is a caste atrocity somewhere, and I call out the people who have attacked a Dalit. Will that be creating public unrest? Who created the public unrest? The person who committed the caste atrocity, not the person who calls it out," Grover said.
'Personal Remarks Against Judges Unfortunate'
In recent times, there has been a growing trend of judges facing personal attacks over judgments, so much so that Justice JB Pardiwala, who was part of the SC bench that came down heavily on Nupur Sharma for her remarks against Prophet Muhammad, spoke earlier in the month about how social media trials were not healthy for the rule of law.
"Personal attacks on judges for their judgments lead to a dangerous scenario where the judges have to think about what the media thinks instead of what the law really thinks. This harms the rule of law," he had said.
Similarly, many have been attacking Justice DY Chandrachud, who led the SC bench that pronounced bail for Zubair.
Grover said that this trend was unfortunate, but that the trolling would not impact the verdicts.
"I don't think the Indian judiciary will tailor or change its verdicts because of some troll's misinformed, bigoted, unfounded, and baseless allegations. I don't think the Indian Supreme Court or honorable judges are in any way going to change their verdict. Their verdicts are based on law and evidence only," she said.
Grover, however, added that she was not saying that SC judgments shouldn't be critiqued, because the apex court itself had reflected on its past judgments, on how they could have been interpreted differently.
"Civil society must comment and critique certain judgments in order to advance jurisprudence, in order to take forward concerns of liberty and freedom. However, making all manner of allegations – very personalised and politicised allegations – does not strengthen democracy. These remarks are very unfortunate," she added.