SC on the Mohammad Zubair case

Photo: PTI

New Delhi: The Supreme Court has declared that the criminal justice system is “relentlessly employed” against Co-founder of Alt News Mohammad Zubair and stressed that arrest is not meant to be and should not be used as a “punitive tool”.
While granting Zubair bail as part of FIRs filed against him in Uttar Pradesh for alleged hate speech, a court headed by Judge DY Chandrachud said the criminal law and its procedures should not be instrumentalized as a “tool of harassment”.

On July 20, the High Court had ordered the release of Zubair on bail in relation to the FIRs filed in Uttar Pradesh against him for alleged hate speech and transferred the cases to the Delhi Police Special Cell. .

In its 20-page judgment, which was posted on its website Monday evening, the High Court said gag orders had a ‘chilling effect’ on free speech and refused to accept the request of the lawyer representing Uttar Pradesh that Zubair be banned from tweeting while out on bail.

The SC said Zubair had been the subject of multiple investigations across the country despite the fact that the same tweets allegedly resulted in similar offenses in various FIRs.

“As can be seen from the facts recounted above, the machinery of criminal justice has been employed relentlessly against the petitioner (Zubair). As a result, he is trapped in a vicious cycle of the criminal process where the process itself has become punishment,” said the bench, which also included judges Surya Kant and AS Bopanna.

“Arrest is not meant to be and should not be used as a punitive tool because it carries one of the most serious consequences possible emanating from criminal law: the loss of personal liberty. Individuals should not be punished solely on the basis of allegations, and without a fair trial,” the court said in its verdict.

The Supreme Court further said that police officers are vested with the power to arrest individuals at various stages of the criminal justice process, including during the investigation, but that this power is not “unbridled”.

Delhi police arrested Zubair on June 27 for allegedly hurting religious feelings through one of his tweets.

No less than seven FIRs have been filed against him in UP – two in Hathras and one in Sitapur, Lakhimpur Kheri, Muzaffarnagar, Ghaziabad and Chandauli Police Station for allegedly hurting religious feelings.

Refusing to bar Zubair from tweeting while out on bail, the Supreme Court said that simply because the complaints against him stemmed from posts he made on a social media platform, an order general anticipated preventing him from tweeting could not be rendered.

The bench said preventing Zubair from posting on social media would amount to an unwarranted violation of freedom of speech and expression and the freedom to practice one’s profession.

“A general order requiring the applicant not to express his opinion – an opinion which he is legitimately entitled to hold as an active participating citizen – would be disproportionate to the objective of imposing conditions on the bail. The imposition of such a condition would amount to a gag order against the petitioner,” he said.

“He noted that according to Zubair, this is a journalist who is the co-founder of a fact-checking website and uses Twitter as a means of communication to dispel fake news and misinformation” at the era of transformed images, clickbait and tailored videos. “.