The Delhi High Court on Wednesday sought the response of the Delhi Police on a plea moved by Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair challenging a lower court order allowing his police custody and seizure and examination of his laptop in connection with a 2018 contentious tweet case.
Zubair was seeking restoration of the device/laptop or document seized by the police, being beyond the allegation in the FIR.
Justice Purushaindra Kumar Kaurav allowed four weeks’ time for the Police to respond to the plea. The court also granted liberty to the fact-checker for filing rejoinder and additional documents in response.
On July 1, while dealing with the plea, a vacation bench of Justice Sanjeev Narula directed the police to file a counter-affidavit within two weeks.
In the last hearing, Zubair’s counsel Vrinda Grover argued that her client was arrested in breach of the Arnesh Kumar guidelines issued by the Supreme Court and that it was an attempt to breach his journalistic freedom as the police seized his mobile phone and laptop.
The Supreme Court had last week granted bail to Zubair in all the six FIRs registered by the Uttar Pradesh Police in different districts over his tweets and clubbed these FIRs with the Delhi FIR.
The top court disposed of Zubair’s plea by granting him bail in all the UP Police cases and also gave him liberty to move the Delhi High Court seeking the quashing of the cases. The top court clarified that its directions will apply to future cases, registered on the basis of tweets that were part of the previous FIRs.
Last month, Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, Patiala House Courts, Snigdha Sarvaria had allowed custody of Zubair to Delhi Police in connection with one of his tweets on the micro-blogging platform Twitter in 2018 in which he allegedly hurt the religious sentiments of a community.
In a follow-up of the case, the Special Cell of Delhi Police flew Zubair to Bengaluru to recover his laptop which he used for uploading various contents on social media sites.
Zubair was charged under the Indian Penal Code’s Sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence) and 295A (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs) for one of his objectionable tweets.
“Transmission and publication of such posts have been deliberately done by Mohammed Zubair through electronic media to insult the religious feelings of a particular community with the intent to provoke breach of peace,” read the FIR.
As per the FIR, accused Zubair had used a screengrab of an old Hindi movie which showed an image of a hotel, with its board reading ‘Hanuman hotel’ instead of ‘Honeymoon hotel’. In his tweet, Zubair had written, “BEFORE 2014: Honeymoon Hotel. After 2014: Hanuman Hotel”.