Zubair: Instrumentalization of criminal law mechanisms cannot be used to harass journalists, Zubair tells SC

Alt News co-founder Mohammad Zubair told the Supreme Court on Wednesday that the instrumentalization of criminal law mechanisms cannot be used to harass journalists and that his tweets do not incite anyone or are in any way derogatory. Zubair, through his lawyer, argued that this is an era of social media where news travels faster than lightning and the work of someone who debunks misinformation can attract the wrath of others, but “the law cannot be weaponized against him. It’s a clear case of silencing a fact-checker”.

A panel of Judges DY Chandrachud, Surya Kant and AS Bopanna were told by attorney Vrinda Grover, appearing for Zubair, that all FIRs filed against him should be quashed or failing that, be bludgeoned with the FIR filed by the cell Delhi special.

“This instrumentalization of the penal apparatus cannot be used to harass a journalist. These six FIRs are based on tweets, none of which incite anyone or are in any way derogatory,” she said. declared.

Grover said a total of six FIRs were filed at UP and there is another FIR filed under Chandauli Police Station that she was unaware of and all of these FIRs are the under investigation on the first FIR filed in Delhi investigated by Special Cell.

She said that in Delhi FIR, the scope of the investigation was widened and they invoked FERA provisions to look into the funding of Alt News and even conducted a search and seizure operation. during which Zubair’s laptop was seized.

“After he was released on bail in the Delhi Police FIR, an FIR was filed in Hathras. The Delhi Police has invoked various sections of the IPC and now they have invoked the provisions of the FERA and want that I am remanded to the Alt News office in Ahmedabad to seize the laptops and other gadgets,” she said, adding that a payment platform clarified that all Alt News funding is national.

She said: “What kind of pre-trial detention do I have to be taken to wherever my office is. This is a statutory abuse of investigative power. There is a direct threat to his life. A bounty has was announced on his head. We requested his appearance via video conference from Tihar prison due to the threats, but it was refused. Now they want me to be brought in and out of Tihar prison in different places.”

Grover referred to the tweets and said that these tweets which are under investigation by Delhi Police are also under investigation by UP Police in different FIRs hosted in Hathras, Lakhimpur Kheri, Ghaziabad, Sitapur and Muzaffarnagar.

“Every time a remedy is granted by the courts in an FIR, an inactive FIR is suddenly activated and I am fired. If you look at the tweets, there is no incitement and the language of these tweets is not nor inappropriate. There is no established prima facie case to have fomented the enmity,” she said.

Grover said there is a network in place that kicks in as soon as a court grants relief to this fact-checker, who through his tweets points to hate speech or fake mosque images used by a television channel that could incite community disharmony.

She said a Special Investigation Team (SIT) was formed by UP Police on the day the High Court awarded her redress in Sitapur FIR based on a tweet already under investigation by the Delhi Police.

She argued that similarly worded notices were issued by three police stations in Uttar Pradesh where FIRs are filed against Zubair, asking for details of bank statements and other financial documents.

“This Alt News funding is also being investigated by the Delhi Police,” she said, adding, “How am I supposed to defend myself. I may not have not have the resources to defend myself where a prima facie case of identifiable infringement is not established against me.

Grover, who first answered the question from the bench, said she was not seeking to quash the FIR filed in Delhi, later said she was not conceding any of her legal remedies and would use of all that is available under the law.

She said the basis of these FIRs filed with UP is such that when relief is granted by a court, a dormant FIR becomes active and Zubair is notified.

Additional Advocate General Garima Prashad, representing the government of Uttar Pradesh, said the petitioner was not a journalist and alleged that “he earns by making malicious tweets. The more malicious the tweets, the more he receives payment”.

“He agreed to have received 2 crore rupees for his tweets. He is not a journalist,” she said, adding that he is a person who benefits from videos of speeches by hatred and makes them go viral to create a community divide.

Prashad added that from 2.5 lakhs of followers, Zubair’s Twitter followers have increased to five lakhs due to his act of tweeting such kind of videos. She said that some of the FIRs filed in UP predate the one filed in Delhi and some after.

“An SIT was formed by UP Police because this was a serious matter and to ensure local police did not take a hard-nosed approach. It is headed by an IG-ranking officer and DIG as a member. The effort of the state government is to maintain communal harmony in the state. There is no conscious malice,” she said.

Zubair was arrested by Delhi police on June 27 for allegedly hurting religious feelings through one of his tweets. Several FIRs were filed against him in UP for his tweets.