14 days’ judicial custody for Zubair; now Lakhimpur police too seek his mobile, laptop

Bail plea moved in Lakhimpur, fresh bail plea in Delhi case to be heard on Tuesday

Published - July 11, 2022 11:03 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Mohammed Zubair, a journalist and co-founder of fact checking website Alt News. File

Mohammed Zubair, a journalist and co-founder of fact checking website Alt News. File | Photo Credit: PTI

Alt-News co-founder Mohammed Zubair was on Monday remanded to 14 days in judicial custody (till July 25) in the case registered against him by the Lakhimpur Kheri police for a fact-check of a television channel report he had posted in May 2021.

The local court in Lakhimpur Kheri also admitted an application by the police seeking Mr. Zubair’s remand for 14 days and a bail application filed by the journalist’s lawyer, both of which will now be heard on July 13, Advocate Harjeet Singh, who represented Mr. Zubair in Lakhimpur, said after Monday’s hearing.

Meanwhile, Mr. Zubair has moved a fresh bail application in the Delhi Police Special Cell (IFSO) case, registered in June, 2022, for a 2018 tweet of his.

In Uttar Pradesh, Mr. Zubair was on Monday produced before the Lakhimpur court virtually from the Sitapur jail. The Lakhimpur police, while seeking his custody, informed the court that they had now also “added” Sections 153B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration), 505(1)B (publishing or circulating statements, rumours, or reports with intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public, or to any section of the public whereby any person may be induced to commit an offence against the State or against the public tranquility) and 505(2) (Statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill will between classes) of the Indian Penal Code in the case against him. 

The case was registered at the Mohammadi police station in Lakhimpur on September 18, 2021, on the complaint of one Ashish Kumar Katiyar, a journalist working at Sudarshan TV. The case was initially registered under Section 153A (promoting enmity among different groups on grounds of religion, race, caste, etc.) of the IPC.

The tweet for which this case has been registered had pointed out that the channel had superimposed an image of a famous Medina mosque on an image of the Gaza strip, to incorrectly show that the said mosque was being destroyed in Israeli air strikes. The complainant claimed this post was inciting Muslims against the said television channel. 

In their application for police remand, the Lakhimpur Kheri police told the court that they also need to visit Bengaluru to seize the device with which the May 2021 tweet was posted, meaning his laptop and other electronic devices.

The police claimed they had recorded a statement of his under Section 161 of the CrPC (inadmissible evidence). They claimed based on this, Mr. Zubair “made his living by spreading propaganda and religious animosity on social media” and that “he received funding from the country and outside the country for this”. The police have, however, not disclosed in their application when this purported statement was recorded.

Both Alt-News and its payments gateway, Razorpay, have repeatedly maintained that the fact-checking portal was not enabled to receive foreign payments and had not received any donations in violation of the Foreign Contributions (Regulation) Act. 

The Lakhimpur police continued, “Mr. Zubair’s posts were part of a big thought-out conspiracy against the country, which is given shape by an organised syndicate, for which organised funding is required. Hence, there is a need to conduct a detailed interrogation of Mr. Zubair with regards to these allegations.” 

The local court has sought a reply to this police remand application from Mr. Zubair’s lawyers. Mr. Singh told The Hindu, “We will file a reply on July 13 but these charges are clearly being brought by the police under severe pressure from the establishment.”

Fresh bail plea in Delhi

Meanwhile, Mr. Zubair’s lawyers in Delhi said they have moved a fresh bail application on his behalf in the Special Cell’s case for a 2018 tweet of his. This case was over a tweet, which had an image of a 1983 CBFC-approved film ‘Kissi Se Na Kehna’ that showed a fictional hotel’s name being changed from Honeymoon hotel to “Hanuman” hotel.

Mr. Zubair is currently in judicial custody in this case and an earlier bail plea in this case has been denied by Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Snigdha Sarvaria.

Now, the fresh bail application has been moved under Section 439 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. It is expected to be heard today by the court of the Additional Sessions Judge as per the roster, Mr. Zubair’s lawyers said. 

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