NEW DELHI: The Delhi High Court on Friday issued a notice to Delhi Police on the plea moved by Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair challenging the police custody remand granted by a trial court. He was remanded to four days of police custody on 28 June in a case related to an objectionable tweet.
The vacation bench of Justice Sanjeev Narula issued notice to Delhi Police on the plea and directed it to file a reply in two weeks and a rejoinder to it in one week. The matter has been listed for July 27 for further hearing. Justice Narula observed, "This petition raises a legal question on the remand granted by the lower, the matter will be heard. I am inclined to issue notice on the petition."
The bench also said, "The remand is ending tomorrow, the court will decide the matter according to the material police have after the remand." The hearing at the lower court would not be prejudiced by the arguments of the counsel who appeared in this petition and during the pendency of it, the bench observed.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who appeared for Delhi Police, urged that the hearing of the matter at the lower court should not be prejudiced. Appearing on behalf of Zubair, Advocate Vrinda Grover argued that the custody in this matter was granted in a mechanical manner and without judicial scrutiny. He argued that no court can take cognizance in this matter as it is barred by the limitation law. "This case is related to a case-related tweet posted in 2018 means four years back. The sections in which the case has been lodged prescribed for a maximum punishment of three years."
She also said that this is a case which plunged a dagger into the heart of civil rights. My client who is a journalist was called for interrogation in another case but was arrested in this case, she argued. His mobile with which the alleged tweet was made in 2018 has been lost. This fact has been reported to the police. Now they (police) have taken his new mobile and laptop also, Advocate Grover further said.
She submitted that the tweets are stored on the server Twitter, not on the mobile. "Intelligence fusion and strategic operation (IFSO) who is investigating the case is cybercrime expert, still, they require the mobile and laptop for the investigation of this case," she added. Justice Narula said, "This is not a bail petition, this is all on merit. The accused may be remanded to judicial custody or further remanded, all this can be put before the magistrate, and the court will decide it."
The counsel for Mohd Zubair said there is no case against her client and police are conducting roving and fishing enquiry against him. "Even the copy of the application was not given to us and the copy of the FIR was given after the court's direction." Mohd Zubair was called for interrogation in another matter in which the High Court has granted protection. He was arrested in this matter and served notice half an hour before arrest. He was produced before a duty magistrate at 10 on the night of 27 June. He was remanded to one-day custody, the counsel.
On the other hand, the Solicitor General argued that Delhi Police is not acting in a partisan manner. He also submitted that matter is still at the stage of initiation. "Would not be proper for him to say anything. We have just seized the mobile and laptop," Solicitor General Mehta said. Advocate Grover vehemently opposed the contention saying that it is not a question of mere seizure, it is a question of liberty of a person.
"Would you allow us to conduct the proceedings in a civilized manner?" Justice Narula pulled up the lawyer after an argument between them. The bench asked if there was any closer report filed in the other FIR. The Solicitor General replied, "In the present matter we have not said one tweet, we said such tweets."
Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair, who was arrested in connection with an "objectionable" tweet, on Thursday had moved Delhi High Court challenging the police remand granted by the trial court. Advocate Vrinda Grover on Thursday mentioned the matter before the vacation bench of the Delhi High Court.
The FIR against Zubair was lodged on June 20 based on the complaint filed by the Duty Officer of the IFSO unit of the Delhi Police Special Cell which tackles cyber crimes. According to duty officer Arun Kumar, while he was monitoring social media, he saw a tweet shared by a person with the Twitter name 'Hanuman Bhakt' and Twitter ID @balajikijai. The shared tweet was Mohammad Zubair's and contained "objectionable" words.
The screenshot of the board is from a Hindi movie. "These words and the picture found to be used by Mohammed Zubair @zoo_bear against a particular religious community are highly provocative and more than sufficient to incite hatred amongst people which can be detrimental to the maintenance of public tranquillity in the society. Transmission and publication of such posts have been deliberately done by Mohammed Zubair @zoo_bear through electronic media to insult the religious feelings of a particular community with the intent to provoke breach of the peace which attracts offence under Section 153-A and 295. From the contents of the post from Twitter handle Mohammed Zubair @zoo_bear, offence 153-A and 295 is made out," the FIR further stated. Zubair was booked under Sections 153A (promotion of enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language) and 295A (Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), Delhi Police said.