Journalist Mohammed Zubair on Wednesday evening walked out of Delhi’s Tihar jail, twenty-three days after he was arrested for allegedly hurting religious sentiments, NDTV reported.

He walked out of jail at 9 pm and showed a victory sign as he sat inside a waiting car.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday granted interim bail to journalist Mohammed Zubair in all the six cases filed against him in Uttar Pradesh, Live Law reported.

Later in the day, a court in Delhi issued release warrants in seven cases filed against Zubair in Uttar Pradesh and Delhi, his counsel Soutik Banerjee said, according to PTI. Duty Magistrate Amardeep Kaur issued the warrants after the lawyer filed bail bonds in all the cases.

A Supreme Court bench comprising Justices DY Chandrachud and AS Bopanna observed that the existence of the power of arrest must be pursued sparingly as it directed the police to release the Alt News co-founder by 6 pm, subject to furnishing of bail bonds.

The judges said there is “no justification” to keep Zubair in further custody and subject him to an endless round of proceedings in various courts.

“Essentially the gravamen of allegations are tweets by him,” the court said, Bar and Bench reported. “He [Zubair] has been subjected to a fairly sustained probe by the Delhi Police and we don’t find a reason for his deprivation of liberty to persist further.”

One case each has been filed against Zubair in the districts of Sitapur, Lakhimpur Kheri, Muzaffarnagar and Ghaziabad and two in Hathras. They are related to satirical comments about television news anchors, allegedly hurting religious sentiments of the Hindu community and posting alleged inflammatory content about deities.

Another case was filed in New Delhi in connection to a tweet that Zubair had posted in 2018. The journalist was granted bail in this case on July 15.

UP cases transferred

At Wednesday’s hearing, the court transferred the first information reports registered against Zubair in Uttar Pradesh to the Delhi Police Special Cell. The judges disbanded a Special Investigation Team formed by the Uttar Pradesh government to investigate the FIRs against Zubair.

The bench said that Zubair will be released on bail if any other FIR is lodged against him for the same cause of action, according to PTI.

The judges also refused Uttar Pradesh Police’s request asking to stop Zubair from tweeting as part of his bail conditions. “How can we tell a journalist not to write?” Chandrachud asked. “We cannot anticipatorily interdict him from exercising his right of free speech. He will be answerable as per the law. Evidence is all in public domain.”

The development came after Zubair’s counsel Vrinda Grover submitted that the Uttar Pradesh Police was raking up old FIRs filed against the fact-checker to keep him in custody.

“Dormant FIR gets suddenly activated,” Grover told the court, according to Live Law. “That is why I say there is more than meets the eye. There is a scenario of encircling me [Zubair].”

She added: “In this age of digital age, the job of someone who is debunking false information may draw the ire of others. But the law cannot be weaponised against him.”

Meanwhile, Uttar Pradesh Additional Advocate General Garima Prashad submitted that Zubair has been promoting malicious and provocative content under the guise of fact-checking, Live Law reported.

“It is repeatedly said the accused is a journalist...But he is not a journalist,” Prashad told the judges. “And he gets paid for the tweets. More malicious the tweets, the more payment he gets. He has admitted. He has got over Rs 2 crores. He is no journalist.”

Prashad also alleged Zubair has been taking advantage of speeches and videos which have the potential to create a communal divide. “He has been sharing them repeatedly,” she said.

At a hearing on Monday, the Supreme Court had described the actions against Zubair as a “vicious cycle”. The court had also barred the police from taking him into custody in cases in which he has not been arrested or his remand has not been sought.

Cases against Zubair

Sitapur: Zubair has been booked in Sitapur for calling three Hindutva supremacists hatemongers in a tweet. All three of the seers mentioned by Zubair – 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.

Lakhimpur Kheri: In the Lakhimpur Kheri case, an Uttar Pradesh court on July 11 sent Zubair to judicial custody for 14 days. Zubair was booked in September for fact-checking a report carried by the television channel Sudarshan News about the Israel-Palestine dispute.

The complaint was filed by Ashish Kumar Katiyar, a journalist working with Sudarshan News. The police registered a FIR on September 18, 2021, after Katiyar approached a local court seeking directions for the same.

In the tweet, Zubair had pointed out that Sudarshan News had superimposed a fabricated image of the Al Masjid An Nabawi mosque in Medina on a picture of the Gaza strip to falsely portray that the mosque was being destroyed in an Israeli rocket attack.

Ghaziabad: In Loni town of the western Uttar Pradesh district, a case was filed against him for reporting about an elderly Muslim man’s beard being forcibly chopped off by men who beat him up. The police accused the journalist and co-accused of communalising the incident that occurred in June 2021.

Muzaffarnagar: A case has been filed based on a complaint by Ankur Rana, the general secretary of the Hindu Jagaran Manch in the district. Rana claimed that he “got to know” that Zubair had posted “false news” about the Sudarshan News show on the Israel-Palestine conflict. The Alt News co-founder had allegedly issued him “death threats” when he had called him up to discuss the matter.

Hathras: The FIR was filed based on a complaint by Deepak Sharma, a Hindu supremacist who has repeatedly called for violence against minorities. He accused Zubair of lampooning Hindu deities and mythological characters on Twitter, without mentioning specific references to any tweets. He also alleged that Zubair tweeted an “edited clip” of suspended Bharatiya Janata Party leader Nupur Sharma, who had made disparaging remarks about Prophet Mohammad.

The second Hathras case relates to an FIR filed in the Sikandar Rao police station on June 10. A suo-moto FIR by the police, it refers to violence that erupted after Friday prayers when Muslims protesting against Nupur Sharma’s remarks clashed with the police, said station house officer Ashok Kumar Singh. However, Singh said Zubair wasn’t named in the FIR. “Instructions came from the top for it to be clubbed with the SIT cases,” he said.

New Delhi: 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 pertain to illegally receiving funds from foreign sources.