A Sitapur court on Thursday denied bail to journalist Mohammed Zubair and granted the police his custody for seven days in a case in which he is accused of describing three Hindutva supremacist seers as “hatemongers”.

Incidentally, all three of the 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.

On July 4, the Sitapur court had remanded Zubair in judicial custody for 14 days. On Thursday, Zubair moved a bail petition, while the Sitapur Police requested for 12 days of his custody.

Judicial Magistrate Abhinav Shrivastava allowed the police to keep Zubair in custody from July 8 to July 14. So far, Zubair was lodged in Delhi’s Tihar Jail in connection to a separate case of hurting religious feelings through a tweet he had posted in 2018.

He will now be moved to Sitapur.

Meanwhile, the court denied bail to Zubair observing that he could repeat the alleged offence and influence witnesses and evidence related to the case.

“We will move higher court for bail soon,” Zubair’s lawyer Mukul Mishra told Scroll.in.

Mishra also said that the police have added charges under Indian Penal Code Section 153A (promoting enmity between two groups) to the first information report against Zubair. Section 295A (deliberate and malicious act of outraging religious feelings) of the IPC and Section 66 of the Information Technology Act have already been invoked in the case.

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 debate show was about the Gyanvapi Mosque case, in which Hindu plaintiffs have claimed that an image of the Hindu deity Shringar Gauri exists at the site and demanded they be allowed to offer prayers daily.

“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 a much better job from News Studios,” Zubair tweeted.

On June 1, the Uttar Pradesh Police booked Zubair based on a complaint filed by Bhagwan Sharan, who identifies himself as the district head of the Hindutva organisation Rashtriya Hindu Sher Sena.

Arguments in Sitapur court

At Thursday’s hearing, the prosecution argued it was essential for the police to have custody of Zubair as the device which he had used to post the allegedly offensive tweet needs to recovered. The prosecution also said that the police needed to interrogate Zubair to prove that he could potentially disrupt law, peace and order.

Zubair’s lawyer argued that there was no need for police custody in order to collect evidence. He also contended that that the court should ensure safety of the journalist if indeed he is sent to police custody.

The court granted custody and directed the Sitapur superintendent of police to be in charge of Zubair’s safety. The journalist should not be subjected to any physical or mental torture, the judge added.

He also allowed Zubair’s lawyer to be present during his interrogation, on conditions that he should be at a reasonable distance and not not interfere with the proceedings.

Earlier on Thursday, Zubair approached the Supreme Court after the Allahabad High Court refused to quash the first information report filed against him in the Sitapur case. His lawyer in the top court, senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, contended that death threats have been issued against the journalist posing a danger to his life.

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the matter on Friday.