New Delhi: Solicitor General Tushar Mehta on Friday told the Supreme Court that the matter was not about a single tweet by Mohammad Zubair, the co-founder of fact-checking website Alt News, rather it was about whether he is part of a syndicate which puts out tweets to destabilise the society.
Mehta, representing the Uttar Pradesh government, contended before a bench comprising Justices Indira Banerjee and J.K. Maheshwari, said that on Thursday Zubair’s bail plea was rejected by trial court in UP and he was remanded to judicial custody. Mehta said the issue was not one tweet or another, rather whether he is part of a syndicate which puts out tweets to destabilise the society. Mehta said the petitioner suppressed many facts, which includes his arrest by the Delhi Police, and also cited the issue with foreign contributions, which is under investigation.
Mehta said after Zubair’s tweet there was a law-and-order situation and Yati Narasinghan was arrested and he is now out on bail, and the government is not defending him. He added that Zubair’s tweet is under investigation and there is more than that meets the eye.
Not a simple case as being put up by the petitioner, said Mehta, adding that the Allahabad High Court noted that his request to quash the proceedings against him was premature. At this juncture senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, representing Zubair, said, “I am promoting secularism…not promoting enmity among religions. I am saying “stop hate speech”.
Gonsalves argued that his client admitted his tweet, therefore no further investigation was required. Referring to a speech by Hindu seers, Gonsalves said: “I am not wrong when I say they are hatemongers…I captured the hate speech…how is my tweet an offence, where is the offence?” He added that when no offence was made out, why should there be a need for investigation? “Where is the need for custody? Where have I insulted a religion? If I am right, you can’t take me into custody…I am defending the Constitution… Because of the high court order, I am suffering in custody,” said Gonsalves.
Mehta said the matter is not of a single tweet, instead his overall conduct is under investigation and added that Zubair is a habitual offender and there are six cases against him. Additional Solicitor General S.V. Raju, representing the UP Police, said “He is tweeting…he is inciting violence…there is intent… The moment you call a religious leader, a hate monger… you are inciting violence”.
Raju added that Zubair outraged the religious feelings of a large number of followers of Mahant Bajrang Muni Baba. “Whether it is deliberate or not, is a matter for trial…you call a religious guru a hate monger, outrage the feelings of a large number of people…attempt to promote disharmony,” he added. Raju said if Zubair had issue with the speech, he could have sent a letter to the police, why tweet? He said prima facie a case is made out against him.
Referring to Zubair’s claim of threat to his life, Mehta said he is in police custody, where is any fear of anybody killing you? He questioned Zubair’s counsel submissions regarding urgency in the matter. The bench replied, “In a matter of deprivation of personal liberty, you can’t say there is no urgency”.
Mehta said in a matter of personal liberty, this court can intervene anytime but here, the petitioner has misled the court. The bench said: “We have not gone by death threats. We have gone by deprivation of liberty and that has happened…”
After hearing the detailed arguments in the matter, the top court granted an interim bail for five days to Zubair in connection with a case registered against him by the UP Police for a tweet, where he allegedly called Hindu seers hatemongers. However, Zubair will continue to be in jail in a case registered by Delhi Police.
In June, a case was registered against him at the Khairabad police station on a complaint lodged by Hindu Lion Army district president Bhagwan Sharan. It was alleged that Zubair called three Hindu seers, Yati Narasinghan Saraswati, Bajrang Muni, and Anand Swaroop as hatemongers.
Zubair moved the Supreme Court challenging the Allahabad High Court’s refusal on June 10, to quash FIR registered against him for allegedly calling Hindu seers “hatemongers”.