NEW DELHI: A Delhi court on Tuesday extended the police custody of Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair, arrested in a case related to an allegedly objectionable tweet, to July 2, observing that he was being uncooperative.
Chief metropolitan magistrate Snigdha Sarvaria added that Zubair's mobile phone or laptop used by him for posting the tweet was to be recovered from his Bengaluru residence.
Zubair told the court the tweet was posted in 2018 and he had used an image from a Hindi film. He said he was being targeted because he challenges powerful people. 'From 2018 to 2022, tweets have not created a flutter'
Describing the case based on an image from a Hindi movie against Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair as bordering on "absurdity", his counsel Vrinda Grover told a Delhi court on Tuesday that the police had called Zubair for questioning in some other case but arrested him in the present case "in haste".
Grover told the court that many others had tweeted the same, and the "only difference between those Twitter handles and his was his faith, his name and his profession".
The police had on June 27 arrested Zubair for allegedly hurting religious sentiments following a complaint by a social media user who referred to a tweet from 2018. The complainant in the case goes by the Twitter name, Hanuman Bhakt, with an image of Lord Hanuman as his profile photo.
"From 2018 to 2022, these tweets have not created a flutter. Not a single ingredient of the offences invoked in this case is satisfied. Which are the two groups between whom enmity is created? Who does it incite? What is the insult? Many tweeted the said tweet and still there was no flutter. Prima facie there is no case. Honeymooners and 'brahmacharis' are not the two groups creating unrest in the country," the senior counsel told the court.
Explaining her observation, she said the image in Zubair's tweet was from a 1983 film of Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Kissi Se Na Kehna
, and in the scene from which the image was used in the tweet, the actress had remarked on seeing a board outside a hotel that it was "not honeymoon hotel, but Hanuman hotel".
The prosecution had sought extension of Zubair's custody by five days on the ground that he did not cooperate with the investigating agency and his custodial interrogation was required to gather information regarding the device from which the tweet was made by the accused. Zubair was produced before the court on the expiry of his one-day police custody.
"Considering that the mobile phone/laptop of the accused for posting the tweet in question is to be recovered at the instance of accused Mohammed Zubair from his Bangalore residence, that the accused has remained non-cooperative and (with) the disclosure statement on record, four days PC (police custody) remand of accused is granted since accused is to be taken to Bangalore," the judge said in the order.
Responding to the argument of Grover that the film from which the image was used had not been banned and that the image had not been edited, the court said it was of no help to the accused at this stage.
During the hearing, Grover said Zubair was a journalist, has a Twitter following and speaks his mind in an independent country. "Zubair is being targeted for his work. He may be challenging people who are powerful but that can't be a reason for his harassment," she claimed.
She said the police were asking for his laptop which has nothing to do with the case.
"The police are abusing their power. Zubair's laptop is a storehouse of his personal information. They want his laptop because he is a journalist. Their laptops contain sensitive information. A fishing inquiry begins when the laptop is seized. That tweet cannot withstand legal scrutiny. He has been challenging people who are speaking certain things. Will that deprive him of his liberty?" she asked.
Pointing out that the anonymous Twitter handle which called out Zubair's tweet was opened only in 2021, she told the judge that this anonymous social media account needed to be investigated.
"The entire case borders on absurdity...The penalty under 153A is a maximum of three years. The penalty under 295 is up to two years. This is a tweet from 2018. Their own cause of action is March 2018. If an anonymous Twitter handle chose to create mischief in the country, those reasons should be investigated," Grover submitted.
The public prosecutor, appearing for the police, claimed that it has become a trend to outrage the religious feelings of the Hindu community to become famous. He alleged that the accused had made several such outrageous posts in the past to hurt religious sentiments.
"This was a deliberate effort on his (Zubair's) part to create social disharmony and hurt religious feelings. He joined the probe but did not cooperate and various material from his phone were deleted...There is a requirement of police remand. This is the first time it came to the police's knowledge," the prosecutor argued.
"He threatened the investigating officer. His parents have his laptop from which data will be deleted. He came with a blank phone," said the prosecutor. He added that the complainant was not anonymous and his details were known.