Twenty-four days after his arrest, Alt News co-founder Mohammad Zubair walked free from Tihar jail on Wednesday night, within hours of the Supreme Court granting him interim bail in all FIRs lodged in Uttar Pradesh for alleged hate speech, saying “exercise of the power of arrest must be pursued sparingly”.
The court said it finds “no reason or justification for the deprivation of his liberty to persist any further”, ordered the disbanding of the SIT constituted by the Uttar Pradesh police and directed the transfer of all UP cases to Delhi.
A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, Surya Kant and AS Bopanna also refused to restrain Zubair from tweeting in the future as sought by the UP government.
“How can a journalist be restrained from tweeting and writing? If he violates any law by tweeting or for that matter any citizen speaking in public or private, then he can be proceeded as per the law”, the bench said in a lengthy order passed after more than a two-hour hearing.
“It is a settled principle of law, that the existence of the power of arrest must be distinguished from the exercise of arrest and the exercise of the power of arrest must be pursued sparingly,” it said.
Zubair, dressed in striped T-shirt and blue trousers, showed the victory sign as he hurriedly left in a car after his release at around 9 pm.
Earlier, the court said the directions for the transfer of investigations of the FIRs which have been registered in Uttar Pradesh to the special cell of Delhi Police shall apply to all the existing FIRs, forming the subject matter of the tweets as noted earlier and to any future FIR to be registered against him under the same subject matter.
Fairness to Zubair would require that the entirety of the investigation into all the FIRs be clubbed together and should be handled by one and the same investigating authority, it added.
It said the overlap between the allegations in the FIRs, emanating as they do, from the tweets of the petitioner (Zubair) would only go to emphasise the need for a consolidated as opposed to a piecemeal investigation by a diverse set of law enforcement agencies.
The apex court said that essentially, the gravamen (the essence or most serious part of a complaint or accusation) of allegations against the petitioner pertains to tweets that have been put out by him.
“Having found from the record that the petitioner has been subjected to a fairly sustained investigation by the Delhi police, we find no reason or justification for the deprivation of the liberty of the petitioner to persist any further. Consequently, we are of the view that the petitioner shall be released on interim bail in each of the FIRs which form the subject matter of these proceedings under Article 32 of the Constitution,” it said.
The top court, which did not upload the detailed order on its website but only the operating part, said that it would take some time to transcribe the detailed judgment and directed that Zubair will be released on interim bail in all the FIRs lodged in UP after depositing a bail bond of Rs 20,000 with Chief Metropolitan Magistrate at Patiala House Court in Delhi.
“Immediately upon the presentation of the bail bonds, the Superintendent at the Tihar Jail shall take necessary steps to ensure that the petitioner is released from judicial custody….,” it said.
It said the investigation into the FIR registered by Delhi Police’s special cell pertains to offences, which have also been invoked in the FIRs lodged in Uttar Pradesh.
The bench said it was of the view that the alternate prayer which has been pursued on behalf of the petitioner should be accepted and “all the FIRs which have been registered against the petitioner including the six FIRs which have been noted arising out of his tweets should be transferred for investigations to the special cell of the Delhi police”.
The bench directed that the SIT which has been constituted by the UP police shall be rendered “redundant and shall be disbanded”.
It added that while the court is inclined to direct the transfer of investigation of the FIRs which have been registered in Uttar Pradesh to the special cell of Delhi Police, “we reserve liberty to the petitioner to take recourse to the remedy under section 482 of CrPC in the event he is advised to seek the quashing of FIR before the Delhi High Court.”
Zubair was arrested by the Delhi Police on June 27 for allegedly hurting religious sentiments through one of his tweets.
Multiple FIRs were lodged against him in UP — two in Hathras and one each in Sitapur, Lakhimpur Kheri, Muzaffarnagar, Ghaziabad, and at Chandauli police station — for allegedly hurting religious sentiments.
Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram on Wednesday said the release of Mohammed Zubair after the Supreme Court’s orders is the “triumph of liberty over tyranny” and held that the judgement reaffirms abuse of power of arrest must be ended.
The former Union minister said every lover of liberty should tweet using the hashtag ‘I am Mohammed Zubair’.
“Grateful to the SC for releasing Mohammed Zubair. It is the triumph of liberty over tyranny. The SC should release all other Zubairs too and put an end to the abuse of the power of arrest,” he said on Twitter.
“Tweet your thoughts on the precious rights of liberty and freedom. After the SC judgement dated July 11, 2022, today’s judgement re-affirms that the abuse of the power of arrest must be ended,” Chidambaram also said.