A Delhi sessions court on Friday, 15 July, granted bail to Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair in the 2018 Hanuman Hotel tweet case, while observing that "dissent is necessary for a healthy democracy."
The bail was granted by sessions judge Devender Kumar Jangala after the order being reserved on Thursday, subject to him furnishing a personal bond of Rs 50,000. The court said that Zubair cannot leave the country without prior permission of the court.
Despite getting bail, Zubair will remain in jail over other charges that he is facing in Uttar Pradesh.
Over the course of the hearing, the court pulled up the Delhi Police for not recording the complainant's (an anonymous Twitter handle) statement.
"Have you recorded statement of this person? The statement isn't written yet," Judge Jangala said, according to LiveLaw.
He maintained that all evidence presented by the police was documentary in nature and Zubair had already been in police custody for five days before being lodged in judicial custody.
Keeping this in mind, the court ordered, that no further interrogation was necessary.
'Dissent Necessary for Democracy'
The court further observed that the voice of dissent is necessary for a healthy democracy and section 153A and 295A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) could not be invoked for criticising political parties.
"In Indian democracy, parties are open for their criticism. The political parties are not shying away from public to face the criticism of its policies," Additional Sessions Judge Devender Kumar Jangala of Patiala House Court added, according to LiveLaw.
Explaining that democracy is made possible by open discussion, the judge said that "a free exchange of ideas, airing of differing view points, debating and forming one's own views and expressing them, are the basic indicators of a free society."
The alleged act, thus, could be categorised as an offence only when done with a "guilty intention."
What Did Zubair's Lawyer Argue?
Zubair's lawyer Advocate Vrinda Grover contended that the case was a "vindictive action" to target Zubair's consistent fact-checking. She argued that the 2018 tweet shared a screenshot of a movie released in 1983 with a satirical comment that had not provoked anyone for four years.
The Delhi Police only initiated action after a complaint was filed by an anonymous Twitter handle.
She also denied the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010 (FCRA) violation allegations arguing that Alt News can only accept domestic contributions. She pointed towards the Razorpay statement that said that only the domestic payment option had been activated for the organisation.
The case against Zubair was registered by the Delhi police based on an objection from a Twitter handle called 'Hanuman Bhakt' over Zubair allegedly tweeting a questionable image.
The anonymous Twitter user had alleged insult to Hindu God Hanuman. His lawyers have argued that the image shared by Zubair was a screenshot from the 1983 movie Kissi Se Na Kehna.
The police filed the FIR on 20 June, taking cognisance of the 19 June tweet by the anonymous Twitter account. No formal complaint had been lodged with the Delhi Police in connection with the case.
Zubair had moved the sessions court for bail after the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate had dismissed his plea and sent him to 14 days of judicial custody on 2 July. The court on 12 July had postponed his bail hearing to 14 July.
Zubair To Remain in Jail Despite Bail
Despite being granted bail in Delhi, Zubair will continue to be lodged in Sitapur jail over other cases. Zubair has been booked in six cases across UP. He was granted bail by the Supreme Court on 8 July in a case lodged in Sitapur over allegedly hurting religious sentiments.
On 11 July, a Lakhimpur Kheri court sent him to judicial custody for 14 days over a case registered against him in 2021 for allegedly spreading enmity between religious groups.
A warrant was issued by the Lakhimpur Kheri police against Zubair on 9 July, a day after he was granted bail by the Supreme Court in the Sitapur case. He has also been booked in Hathras in two separate cases.