‘How Can We Tell a Journalist not to Write’, SC on Bail Conditions for Zubair

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“We don’t find a reason for his deprivation of liberty to persist further. We direct Zubair to be released on bail on each of the FIRs in UP… existence powers of arrest must be distinguished from the exercise of powers of arrest… power of arrest should be used sparingly,” The court said

NEW DELHI – The Supreme Court on Wednesday, while granting interim bail to Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair, declined to impose harsh bail conditions, which included that he should not tweet.

As Uttar Pradesh’s Additional Advocate General Garima Prasad submitted before a bench headed by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud that Zubair should not tweet after the court granted him interim bail, Justice Chandrachud said: “It is like telling a lawyer that you should not arguea..How can we tell a journalist that he will not write?”

Prasad said Zubair was not a journalist and cited the order passed by a vacation bench of the Supreme Court, granting interim bail to Zubair in the Sitapur FIR, and a condition was imposed that he will not post tweets.

In response, the bench, also comprising Justices Surya Kant and A.S. Bopanna, said: “We cannot stop him from tweeting. We cannot anticipatorily interdict him from exercising his right of free speech. He will be answerable as per the law…”

Justice Chandrachud said: “If there are any tweets against law, he will be answerable. How can we pass any anticipatory order that someone will not speak?” As Prasad contended that there should be a condition that Zubair will not tamper with evidence, he replied: “All the evidence is in public domain.”

Justice Chandrachud reiterated: “We can’t say that he won’t tweet again”.

The top court, in its order, said: “The bail bonds… shall be presented before the Chief Judicial Magistrate at the Patiala House Courts, Delhi. Immediately upon the presentation of the bail bonds, the Superintendent at the Tihar Jail shall take necessary steps to ensure that the petitioner is released from judicial custody no later than by 6 p.m. today.”

The top court also clubbed the 6 UP FIRs with the Delhi Police FIR. The bench noted that Delhi Police investigation is comprehensive and extends beyond the gamut of tweets, and Zubair was granted regular bail in the Delhi Police FIR on July 15 but Zubair is embroiled in successive FIRs in diverse police stations in UP.

The top court observed that Zubair has been subjected to a fairly sustained probe by Delhi Police. “We don’t find a reason for his deprivation of liberty to persist further. We direct Zubair to be released on bail on each of the FIRs in UP… existence powers of arrest must be distinguished from the exercise of powers of arrest… power of arrest should be used sparingly,” it said.

The top court clarified that Zubair will be entitled to bail in future FIRs in connection with tweets, which are already under investigation. The bench also granted him liberty to approach the Delhi High Court for seeking quashing of all the FIRs.

During the hearing Prasad argued that Zubair gets paid for the tweets and the more malicious the tweets, the more payment he gets. The counsel added that Zubair had got close to Rs 2 crore and he is not a journalist.

In response, Zubair’s counsel, advocate Vrinda Grover called the cases an orchestrated investigation for stifling dissent.

The top court said: “No justification to keep him in continued custody and subject him to endless rounds of custody”, and added that SIT constituted by the Uttar Pradesh government, to investigate the UP FIRs, is rendered redundant and is disbanded.

Zubair had moved the apex court seeking a direction to quash the six FIRs registered against him by the UP Police in Hathras, Ghaziabad, Muzaffarnagar, Lakhimpur Kheri, and Sitapur. -IANS

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