Delhi Police DCP KPS Malhotra on Saturday said he informed media incorrectly that AltNews co-founder Mohammed Zubair has been sent to 14-day judicial custody in a case related to an "objectionable tweet" he had posted in 2018 against a Hindu deity. However, Zubair's lawyer Soutik Banerjee said no order has been pronounced yet.
According to a senior police official who did not wish to be identified, Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Snigdha Sarvaria allowed its plea for 14-day remand.
Asked about the order, Banerjee said, "It is extremely scandalous and it speaks of the status of rule of law in our country today. That even before the judicial magistrate has sat and pronounced the order, police has leaked the order to the media.
The police had produced Zubair before the court on expiry of his five-day custodial interrogation and urged it to send him to judicial remand, saying they might need his custodial interrogation later.
After the police application, Zubair had moved a bail application before the court. Advocate Vrinda Grover, appearing for the accused, moved the bail application on the ground that her client was not required for the investigation any further and said, “I (Zubair) am not some terrorist that they need to secure my presence”.
During the hearing, Public Prosecutor Atul Srivastava also informed the court that the police has invoked new provisions -- sections 120B (criminal conspiracy) and 201 (destruction of evidence) of the Indian Penal Code and section 35 of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act -- against Zubair.
He claimed that the accused accepted money through Razorpay payment gateway from Pakistan, Syria and other countries, which requires further investigation.
“He came to office of special cell with phone. When it was analysed, it was found that prior to that day, he has been using another sim. When he received notice, he took out the same and put it in new mobile. Please see how clever the person is,” the prosecutor told the court.
He added that the probe agency may need further custody of the accused and may move an application since the investigation was not complete in the matter.
Grover opposed the police plea seeking judicial custody and said, “We are not living in police state. Till they demonstrate a prima facie case, if it's made out, I'll submit to law. But if they don't, it's not a police state”.
She claimed that since the story of section 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc) is over, police was telling media that Zubair was taking money, naming some countries.
“I (Zubair) am making a statement I was not taking the money. It was the company,” the counsel said. The court was misled when told that the accused has received foreign contributions, she added.
“Alt News runs under a company under sec 8. They are saying I am a journalist, I cannot receive FCRA. This is to the company, not to me. It hasn't gone into my account. I am making a categorical statement,” Grover said.
Grover further told the court that the phone seized by the police was not of the time when the tweets were made. “Tweet is of 2018, the phone is which I (Zubair) am using presently. I haven't even denied the tweet,” she said.
The counsel further told the court that the entire exercise was malafide in nature and was a non prosecutable action of FIR, which started from a story of four-year-old tweet.