Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair on Thursday approached the Supreme Court after the Allahabad High Court refused to quash the first information report filed against him by the Uttar Pradesh Police for calling three Hindutva supremacists “hatemongers” in a tweet, reported Bar and Bench.
All three seers – Yati Narasinghanand Saraswati, Bajrang Muni and Anand Swaroop – have been booked in hate speech cases in the past few months for making inflammatory statements about Muslims.
Zubair was sent to 14-day judicial custody in the case by a court in Uttar Pradesh’s Sitapur on Monday.
At an hearing on Thursday, senior advocate Colin Gonslaves, representing Zubair, sought bail in the case from a Supreme Court vacation bench of Justices Indira Banerjee and JK Maheshwari. “There are death threats against him [Zubair],” Gonsalves added. “I am really worried.”
The judges agreed to list the plea for hearing on Friday subject to clearance from Chief Justice NV Ramana.
Last month, the Allahabad High Court had refused to quash the FIR against Zubair, saying that the investigation was at a premature stage.
“The evidence has to be gathered after a thorough investigation and placed before the court concerned on the basis of which alone the court concerned can come to a conclusion one way or the other on the allegations levelled by the petitioner,” the court had said. “If the allegations are bereft of truth and made maliciously, the investigation will say so.”
In his petition before the Allahabad High Court, Zubair argued that he had not “insulted or attempted to insult a religious belief of a class” with his tweet. He demanded that the FIR should be quashed, saying the complaint against him had been filed just to harass him with an ulterior motive.
On June 1, the Uttar Pradesh Police booked Zubair under Indian Penal Code Section 295A (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings) as well as Section 67 (publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form) of the Information Technology Act.
The action was taken based on a complaint by Bhagwan Sharan, who identifies himself as the district head of Hindutva organisation Rashtriya Hindu Sher Sena.
Sharan said that his religious sentiments had been hurt by Zubair’s tweet. In his complaint, Sharan alleged that Zubair was inciting Muslims to murder Hindutva leaders.
The journalist is already in judicial custody in a separate case after a Twitter handle had taken objection to a tweet posted by him in 2018, which showed an image of a hotel signboard repainted from “Honeymoon Hotel” to “Hanuman Hotel”.
The UP case against Zubair
On May 27, Zubair wrote on Twitter that prime time debates on Indian news channels had become “a platform to encourage hate mongers to speak ill about other religions”.
He shared a clip of a debate on the Times Now channel, called “The Gyanvapi Files”, moderated by its anchor Navika Kumar.
The show was about the standoff at the Gyanvapi mosque in Varanasi, where a court-appointed surveyor reported that an oval object had been found in the tank of the Muslim place of worship during a video survey. Hindu petitioners claimed it is a Shivling, a symbolic representation of Shiva. Muslims, however, say that the object is actually a fountain.
In his tweet on May 27, Zubair said that Kumar had been doing shows claiming that the structure inside the mosque was a shivling.
“Why do we need Hate Mongers like Yati Narasinghanand Saraswati or Mahant Bajrang Muni or Anand Swaroop to arrange a Dharam Sansad to speak against a community and a Religion when we already have Anchors who can do much better job from News Studios,” Zubair wrote.