Mohammed Zubair, fact-checker and co-founder of Alt News, walked free, 24 days after his arrest,  from the Tihar Jail on July 20 hours after the Supreme Court granted him bail in all first information reports (FIRs) registered against him across the state for allegedly hurting religious sentiments.

The journalist was arrested last month by the Delhi Police over a tweet he had shared in 2018 that had named a Hindu deity. He was granted bail in the case earlier, but remained behind the bars due to the complaints filed against him in UP. At the time, the Delhi court had said, “The voice of dissent is necessary for a healthy democracy.”

While ordering Zubair’s immediate release from Tihar Jail in the national capital, an SC bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, Surya Kant and AS Bopanna on July 20 asked the authorities to combine all cases against him into one. While the Apex Court had ordered him to be released at 6 p.m., Zubair walked out of the jail around 8 p.m. after completing all formalities.

The Apex Court also said all FIRs filed against Zubair (so far) must be clubbed and transferred from Uttar Pradesh to Delhi. This will also apply to cases against him in other states and to future FIRs.

Here is what the Supreme Court said while granting bail to Mohammed Zubair:

  • The Supreme Court asserted that keeping Zubair in custody is no longer justified. “In the present case, there is no justification to keep him in continued custody any further and subject him to diverse proceedings when the gravamen of allegations arises from the tweets which form part of investigation by Delhi Police,” the court said.
  • The apex court also said a ‘consolidated investigation is required’ as it ordered the clubbing of all FIRs against Zubair, and the transfer of existing and future cases from all states to Delhi.
  • The bench directed that the SIT which has been constituted by the UP police shall be rendered “redundant and shall be disbanded”.
  • “It is a settled principle of law, that the existence of the power of arrest must be distinguished from the exercise of arrest and the exercise of the power of arrest must be pursued sparingly,” the court said.
  • On the UP government’s plea to stop him from tweeting, the court said it is like ‘asking a person not to speak…like asking a lawyer not to argue’. “Whatever he does, he will be responsible in law but we can’t ask a journalist not to write,” the court said, rejecting the plea for a gag order.
  • On July 18, the court had issued an interim protective order and asked courts and police in UP not to take precipitative action on FIRs lodged against Zubair. Justice DY Chandrachud had said, “Contents of all FIRs seem to be similar. What seems to be happening is as he gets bail in one case, he is remanded in another. This vicious cycle is continuing.”

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