The Supreme Court on Friday granted interim bail to Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair for five days in a case filed against him by the Uttar Pradesh Police for calling three Hindutva supremacists “hatemongers” in a tweet.

The interim bail will be effective till July 12, the next date of hearing. Zubair, however, will not be able to walk free immediately as he is in judicial custody in a separate case filed by the Delhi Police.

Zubair’s lawyer Kawalpreet Kaur told that the five-day period of the interim bail begins from Friday itself.

“This effectively means, that the police custody [in Sitapur] of the accused ends today,” she said. “UP Police should bring him back and admit him in front of the magistrate in Sitapur court. Once he is produced and his bail conditions are fulfilled, he will be released on bail.”

She added that the police would need to file another application if they want to take Zubair for recovery of evidence or interrogation.

At Friday’s hearing, a division bench of Justices Indira Banerjee and JK Maheshwari granted interim bail to Zubair on the condition that he should not move outside the jurisdiction of the Delhi magistrate, not post any tweets or tamper with any evidence, the order stated.

Zubair moved the Supreme Court after the Allahabad High Court had last month refused to quash the first information report filed against him by the Uttar Pradesh Police.

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.

At Friday’s hearing, senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, representing the Alt News co-founder, contended that his client had only raised his voice against hate speech by religious leaders and had not engaged in such an act himself.

All the others released on bail but I, a secular tweeter, was arrested,” Gonsalvses argued, according to Bar and Bench. “When I say hate monger I am not wrong. The police has prosecuted them [the seers] under 295A IPC [Indian Penal Code section related to deliberately outraging religious feelings].”

On the other hand, Additional Solicitor General SV Raju, appearing for the investigating officer, alleged that Zubair’s tweet was an attempt to promote disharmony among religious groups, Bar and Bench reported. He said that the journalist should have sent a letter to the Uttar Pradesh Police about the Hindutva supremacists instead of tweeting.

“He has not written to police, he is tweeting it so that everyone sees it and then violence is incited,” the additional solicitor general contended.

He added that the act of calling a religious leader a hatemonger had the potential to outrage religious sentiments and incite violence.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Uttar Pradesh government, said that the case was not merely about one tweet and that the police were investigating whether he was part of a syndicate that regularly posts such tweets with the intent to destabilise the country.

Mehta also argued that Zubair had suppressed important information from the Supreme Court about a local court rejecting his bail, and saying that there was a prima facie case against him.

In the previous hearing on Thursday, Gonsalves had told the court that death threats were being made against his client and that he was very worried.

The Uttar Pradesh Police have booked Zubair under Section 295A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings) of the Indian Penal Code 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 facing a separate case filed by the Delhi Police after a Twitter handle had taken objection to a tweet posted by him in 2018. The tweet showed images of a hotel signboard repainted from “Honeymoon Hotel” to “Hanuman Hotel”. The images were stills from a 1983 Hindi film.

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.

“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.