Welcome relief: On bail to Mohammed Zubair

It may not be a good sign that the Supreme Court has become the sole forum to protect personal liberty

July 22, 2022 12:10 am | Updated 06:36 pm IST

There is a sense of relief among everyone who values personal liberty and free speech, following the grant of interim bail to Mohammed Zubair, co-founder of fact-checking website Alt News. Given that multiple cases were registered for the same alleged offence, most of them based on tweets, personal liberty and freedom of expression were both under threat. In the face of an assertive executive in times of majoritarian nationalism, it has become normal for magistrates to comply with any demand for the police to remand those brought before them to custody and to deny them bail regardless of the merit or lack of it in those cases. In the case of Mr. Zubair, it was quite palpable that he was being hounded by the police acting on complaints manifestly motivated by communal considerations. Apart from the first FIR in Delhi based on a 2018 tweet referencing a scene in a film from the early 1980s, he has been accused of receiving foreign donations without a licence to do so. Further, some obviously trivial and absurd cases of insulting religious feelings based on innocuous tweets have made it quite clear that the investigation is not so much about what he said as about how he could be harassed and hounded to the point of making him leave his vocation of fact-checking and silence his voice. Everyone must, therefore, welcome the judicial pushback from the Supreme Court in seeing through the game plan behind the registration of multiple FIRs at the instance of votaries of Hindutva.

The Bench did not proceed to quash the various cases against Mr. Zubair, but it has ordered the clubbing of all cases and transferring the investigation to the Delhi Police. As a consequence, the Special Investigation Team formed by the Uttar Pradesh Police to initiate a wide-ranging probe against him has been ordered to be disbanded. The virtues of the order are not limited to the grant of relief. In the process, the Bench has recognised that some FIRs are similar in content and that there is an effort to subject him to “endless rounds of proceedings before diverse courts”. It has also declined to bar him from tweeting further, noting that no one’s voice could be stifled like that when anything said in the public domain was open to scrutiny for possible transgressions of the law. This is a blow for free speech at a time when some courts impose gag orders as part of the conditions for grant of bail. That it needed the country’s highest court to grant such relief is a sad commentary on the state of affairs in the country. The overall atmosphere is so vitiated by state-backed majoritarianism that the Supreme Court has become the only forum for protecting personal liberty, while the lower judicial echelons do not seem to be up to the task.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.