Alt News co-founder Zubair moves SC for bail, quashing of FIR lodged in UP

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Mohammed Zubair | Photo: Twitter

New Delhi: Seeking bail from the Supreme Court, Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair on Thursday submitted that there is a "new" police strategy afoot in hate speech cases and communal crimes where FIRs are registered against criminals as well as those monitoring and protesting such crimes.

Zubair alleged the strategy is to "stifle" freedom of speech of secular persons in society who stand up against communal elements as he moved the top court for quashing the FIR and bail in a case registered against him in Sitapur district of Uttar Pradesh for allegedly outraging religious feelings. He also alleged there is a threat to his life in UP.

A vacation bench of Justices Indira Banerjee and JK Maheshwari said the matter be listed on Friday subject to clearance from the Chief Justice of India.

Zubair's petition said it is a "new police strategy for registering FIRs in hate crime cases against the criminals as well as those monitoring and protesting hate crimes."

The appeal by the journalist from the fact-checking website sought a stay of the investigation in the Sitapur FIR and direct the UP government not to proceed, prosecute or arrest the petitioner.

"There is a new strategy afoot of the police in communal crime cases. That is to register FIRs against those engaging in hate speech and communal crimes, as well as to rope in all secular elements monitoring such crimes and protesting police inaction against the wrongdoers.

"This is done with the intention of stifling freedom of speech of secular persons in society who stand up against communal elements and to put fear into them so that they no longer protest," according to Zubair's petition.

The petition said it is therefore imperative that the top court understand this new strategy and nip it in the bud so that secular social activism continues on its path and plays the most necessary role in society to stand up to communalism.

During the hearing, senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, appearing for Zubair, said his anticipatory bail was rejected by the Allahabad High Court and subsequently he was arrested.

Gonsalves said the job of Zubair is to fact-check news and he was doing the role of identifying hate speeches.

"A look at the FIR shows that there is no crime but there is a threat to his life as people out there are threatening him," he said while urging the court to list the matter urgently.

An FIR was lodged against Zubair in Uttar Pradesh under IPC section 295A (deliberate and malicious act intended to outrage religious feelings) and section 67 of the IT Act here on a complaint by Hindu Sher Sena Sitapur district president Bhagwan Sharan on June 1.

Zubair was arrested by the Delhi Police on June 27 for allegedly hurting religious sentiments through one of his tweets.

The Delhi Police also invoked new provisions -- sections 120B (criminal conspiracy) and 201 (destruction of evidence) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and section 35 of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act -- against Zubair.

The appeal of Zubair against the Allahabad High Court order of June 10 was filed through advocate Satya Mitra.

Zubair submitted that the allegations in the impugned FIR (lodged in Sitapur) even if taken on its face value and if accepted in entirety do not prima facie disclose any offence, and that is a fit ground for quashing of FIR, as has been held in a catena of judgements of the apex court.

He said Alt news is a solution-focused organisation that undertakes multiple activities including journalistic, technological, and educational, with the ultimate aim of increasing critical thought in society, promoting information and media literacy among the masses, and reducing the harmful effects of misinformation, disinformation and hate speech on the society.

"The petitioner also ensures the wide reachability of Alt News stories by promoting them on social media through his social media handles. Due to the nature of his work, he is often subjected to online trolling, abuses, threats, and frequent demeaning by people who do not agree with his views," he said in his appeal.

Zubair said those who engage in hate speech are numerous and many. "They are well organised. They operate as a group identifying secular persons who speak out against hate speech and then contact one another to file multiple FIRs against innocent people who are speaking out bravely against hate speech…”.

In his petition, he said Mahant Bajrang Muni Udasin, chief priest of the Badi Sangat Ashram in Khairabad area of Sitapur district, gathered with hundreds of his followers in front of Sheeshe Wali Masjid, Khairabad on April 2 and allegedly threatened in the presence of the police mass sexual violence against Muslim women. There was a full-fledged attempt to incite violence in the area, he alleged.

Zubair said the video of the Mahant's provocative and inflammatory hate speech went viral on social media resulting in campaigns and demonstrations seeking his arrest.

The hate speech was so objectionable that the Chairperson, National Commission for Women, took note of the incident and condemned the statement made by the Mahant, Zubair said.

The Chairperson also wrote a letter to the UP Director General of Police seeking immediate intervention and registration of the FIR against the accused and also his prompt arrest, he added. "It was only after this letter, that an FIR was registered against Mahant Bajrang Muni and he was arrested on April 13, 2022, 11 days after the hate speech," he said.


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