A Delhi court on Saturday rejected the bail plea of Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair and sent him to 14-day judicial custody. The court cited nature and gravity of the offences alleged against the fact-checking journalist. But, the order was not without its share of drama. Before it was announced, high drama involving a senior Delhi Police officer erupted outside the courtroom.
The Delhi Police on Saturday produced Zubair before a court in a case related to an objectionable tweet he had posted in 2018 against a Hindu deity and sought custody. He was produced before expiry of his five-day custodial interrogation.
Police have also accused Zubair of conspiracy and evidence destruction in the case, and relevant sections of the IPC have been added to the FIR to reflect this. The new charges are under Sections 120B (criminal conspiracy) and 201 (causing disappearance of evidence) and Sec 35 of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act.
Public prosecutor Atul Srivastava alleged that the accused accepted money through Razorpay payment gateway from Pakistan, Syria and other countries, which requires further investigation.
Advocate Vrinda Grover, appearing for the accused, moved a bail plea on the ground that her client was not required for the investigation any further and said, “I (Zubair) am not some terrorist that they need to secure my presence”.
Police said it has been found that most of the Twitter handles that tweeted in support of Zubair were from Middle Eastern countries and Pakistan, according to a report by IANS. “We found it during social media analysis that most of the Twitter accounts supporting Zubair after his arrest were from countries like the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait and Pakistan,” a senior Delhi Police official told IANS.
Outside the courtroom, however, deputy commissioner of police (intelligence fusion and strategic operations) KPS Malhotra was forced to admit he had informed the media earlier that Zubair had been sent to 14-day judicial custody even before chief metropolitan magistrate Snigdha Sarvaria pronounced the judgment. The judge had reserved the order after hearing arguments from both sides.
Savaria dismissed the bail plea and observed that the matter was at an initial stage of investigation. “Since the matter is at the initial stage of investigation and considering overall facts and circumstances of the case and nature and gravity of the offences alleged against the accused, no ground for grant of bail is made out. Bail application of accused is accordingly dismissed. Accordingly, accused is remanded to judicial custody for 14 days,” the judge said in the eight-page order.
The order further stated, “As regards the plea that the alleged tweet of the accused for which accused has been arrested is of the year 2018 and part of Hindi movie ‘Kissi Se Na Kehna’ and so offences under sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc.) and 295A (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs) IPC are not made out, are of no assistance to the accused as Section 35 (Punishment for contravention of any provision of the) FC(R) Act have also been added…”
The judge said the accused should be produced before the court concerned or duty metropolitan magistrate on July 16.
The journalist’s lawyer expressed shock over the leak of news of the bail plea rejection when the court was yet to pronounce its order. “I am shocked to see that DCP KPS Malhotra has leaked in the media ki ‘hamara bail reject ho gaya hai. Aur 14 din ka JC grant hui hai’ (that my bail plea has been rejected and my judicial custody has been granted for 14 days). I have learnt this from the Twitter posts of news channels and some law reporters. They all cited KPS Malhotra as source,” Soutik Banerjee said outside the courtroom.
“It is extremely scandalous and it speaks of the status of rule of law in our country today. That even before the judicial magistrate has sat and pronounced the order, the police have leaked the order to the media. How KPS Malhotra knows what the order is. This calls for serious, serious introspection,” he added.
Shortly after Banerjee’s remarks triggered an online furore, Malhotra admitted to informing reporters incorrectly about Zubair’s judicial custody. “I had a word with my IO (investigating officer), I misheard it due to noise and inadvertently the message was posted in the broadcast,” he said in a WhatsApp message to reporters.
(With PTI inputs)