A Delhi court on Friday granted bail to journalist Mohammed Zubair in a case related to a tweet he had posted in 2018.

The judge directed him to furnish a bail bond of Rs 50,000 with one surety, and to not leave the country without the court’s permission.

The case against the Alt News co-founder in the national capital was based on a complaint by Delhi Police Sub-Inspector Arun Kumar, who said he was monitoring social media when he came across the March 2018 tweet after a handle named Hanuman Bhakt raised objections.

The handle had taken objection to Zubair’s tweet showing a hotel signboard with the name “Honeymoon Hotel” repainted to “Hanuman Hotel”. The journalist’s lawyer argued in court that the photos were screenshots taken from a 1983 Hindi movie named Kissi Se Na Kehna.

The Delhi Police later also added Section 35 of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act to the first information report. The legal provisions pertains to illegally receiving funds from foreign sources.

On Friday, Additional Sessions Judge Devender Kumar Jangala, in his order, observed that democracy “can neither work nor prosper” unless citizens express their views. “Undoubtedly, free speech is the proper foundation of a democratic society,” he said.

The judge said that the Hindu religion, as also its followers, are tolerant in nature. Naming an institute or facility after a Hindu deity would not constitute an offence under Sections 153A (promoting enmity between groups) or 295A (acts intended to outrage religious feelings), unless it is done with malice, he added.

The judgement also referred to the text “Before 2014 and after 2014” that Zubair had written in the tweet in an apparent reference to the Narendra Modi-led government coming to power. It said that criticism of a political party did not justify invoking the criminal charges, and that dissent was necessary for a healthy democracy.

The judge said that the police had failed to establish the identity of the Twitter user who was offended by Zubair’s post. He also said the tweet was posted in 2018, and no complaint had earlier been made that the post was offensive to the Hindu religion.

The judgement also noted that the film Kissi Se Na Kehna was approved by the Central Board of Film Certification and has been available for public viewing since its release in 1983.

Arguments before the court

Advocate Vrinda Grover, appearing for Zubair on Thursday, told the court that an anonymous Twitter account had complained to the police about the tweet and the identity of the person had not yet been revealed, The Indian Express reported.

The judge asked Additional Public Prosecutor Atul Shrivastava if the police had recorded the statement of the person running the account. The public prosecutor said that the police had the details of the account, but had not recorded the statement yet.

In response, the judge said that the police needed to go by the Code of Criminal Procedure, and not by tweets.

“You haven’t recorded the statement yet?” he said. “How many victims’ statements have you recorded? You must have recorded statement of persons who felt offended. How many statements you recorded till date?”

Grover also told the court that a mention of the code +92 found by the police was a formula for computation in Microsoft Excel, and not a reference to Pakistan, Bar and Bench reported. She said that Alt News accepts only Indian money and not foreign contributions.

The lawyer also argued that in order for charges of promoting enmity to be relevant, there needed to be two communities involved. “Hanuman ji is the Hindu deity,” she said. Where is the other community? Not even a prima facie case made out against me.”