New Delhi, Sep 9 (PTI) The Delhi High Court on Wednesday directed the police not to take any coercive steps against fact-check website Alt News’ co-founder Mohammed Zubair for allegedly “threatening and torturing” a minor girl on social media.
Justice Yogesh Khanna also sought responses from the police and National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), on whose complaint a case was lodged, on the journalist’s plea seeking quashing of the FIR against him.
The Delhi Police had registered an FIR against Zubair on August 9 for offences under the Information Technology Act for allegedly “threatening and torturing” a girl child on Twitter, according to a complaint from the NCPCR.
The NCPCR complaint referred to the photo of a girl and her father shared by Zubair on Twitter during an online spat with the minor's father. The incident in question took place on August 6. Zubair had posted a picture of the said person’s grand daughter with her face blurred. “Hello Jagdish Singh, Does your cute grand daughter know about your part time job of abusing people on social media? I suggest you to change your profile pic (sic),” Zubair had written in response to an abusive post.
The Delhi HC also directed Twitter India to cooperate with the police in the investigation of the matter.
The accused approached the high court seeking the quashing of the FIR against him. He also sought a copy of the FIR saying the cyber cell refused to provide him the document.
Delhi government standing counsel (criminal) Rahul Mehra, representing the state and DCP of police, said though he has no instructions from the department about the matter but as an officer of the court he has no objection in supplying the copy of the FIR to the accused as he has a right to know the allegations against him.
The HC asked the police to provide him the copy of FIR so that he can respond to the allegations.
Zubair refuted the allegation levelled in the FIR as “an absolutely frivolous complaint”.
The HC asked Delhi Police and DCP Cyber Cell Anyesh Roy to file a status report within eight weeks and listed the matter for further hearing on December 8.
“No coercive action against the petitioner (Zubair) till then,” the judge said.
During the hearing, senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, appearing for Zubair, submitted that he is the co-founder of the fact-checking website news outlet Alt News and debunks misinformation put out by individuals and political parties without any bias. Due to the nature of his work, he is often abused, threatened and demeaned by people.
He said two FIRs have been lodged against him for the same incident, one in Delhi and the other in Chhattisgarh.
He submitted that he was being trolled for his posts on Twitter by a man who abused, demeaned and even left communally charged comments on Zubair’s Twitter page.
Later, the journalist posted the display picture of the man, standing with his minor daughter whose face was cautiously blurred by the petitioner and wrote a tweet. After this, a complaint was made against him with the NCPCR and an FIR was lodged.
Mehra submitted that the journalist was a habitual offender and till the time police get information about a third Twitter handle, he can be given interim protection.
He said the police is still investigating the matter and the FIR was lodged solely on the version of complainant, NCPCR chairman.
Advocate Anindita Pujari, appearing for NCPCR chairman Priyank Kanoongo, submitted that he shall be deleted from the array of parties as he was only an informant and doing his statutory duty.
Zubair’s counsel said the NCPCR chief was made a party as he had tweeted about the matter from his personal handle and not the commission’s handle.
Last week, the NCPCR chief had tweeted: "According to the ATR received in @NCPCR_, an FIR has been lodged against the alleged persons for threatening and torturing a girl child on @Twitter. As per the request made by @TwitterIndia an additional time of 10 days has been provided to them to provide relevant information."