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“Voice Of Dissent Necessary…”: Delhi Court on fact-checker’s Bail Order

New Delhi: A Delhi court while granting bail to Alt News fact-checker Mohammed Zubair in a 2018 tweet case on Friday said Hinduism is one of the oldest and most tolerant religions and rejected the prosecution’s argument that Mr Zubair’s use of “Before 2014” and “After 2014” in a tweet had hurt sentiments of Hindus.

The BJP had won the 2014 general elections and the then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi became Prime Minister for the first time the same year.

While granting bail to Mr Zubair in the 2018 case, Additional Sessions Judge Devender Kumar Jangala said Indian democracy and political parties are open to criticism, which means mere criticism of any party can’t be the basis to punish a person.

“The voice of dissent is necessary for a healthy democracy…Undoubtedly free speech is the proper foundation of a democratic society,” the court said.

“Hindu religion is one of the oldest religions and most tolerant. The followers of the Hindu religion are also tolerant. Hindu religion is so tolerant that its followers proudly name their institution/organisation/facilities in the name of their God or Goddess,” the judge said in the order.

“The website of the Ministry of Corporate Affairs reveals that a number of companies are incorporated in the name of Hindu God or Goddess. Therefore naming of an institute, facility or organisation, or child in the name of Hindu deity on the face of it, is not violative of Section 153A and 295A IPC unless the same is done with malice/guilty intention,” the judge said in the order, referring to sections of the Indian Penal Code, or IPC, which deal with inciting enmity on religious grounds and similar charges.

Mr Zubair was arrested on June 27 by the Delhi Police over a four-year-old tweet sharing a screenshot from a popular Hindi movie. The unidentified complainant alleged the tweet hurt the religious sentiments of Hindus. The judge noted the police have not been able to find out the identity of the Twitter user on whose complaint the police filed the case against Mr Zubair over the 2018 tweet.

Though Mr Zubair got bail in this case, he will remain in jail as he faces other cases filed by the Uttar Pradesh Police for allegedly hurting religious sentiments. Six First Information Reports, or FIRs, have been filed against Mr Zubair in UP’s Sitapur, Lakhimpur Kheri, Ghaziabad, Muzaffarnagar and Hathras.

In the bail order, the judge also said “democracy can neither work nor prosper unless people go out to share their views” and referred to Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, which gives freedom of speech and expression to citizen.

“This freedom alone makes it possible for people to formulate their own views and opinions on a proper basis and to exercise their social, economic, and political rights in a free society in an informed manner. The liberty of speech and expression guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a) brings within its ambit, the corresponding duty and responsibility and puts limitations on the exercise of that liberty,” the judge said in the order.

“The applicant has posted the image of the scene of a movie ‘Kisi Se Na Kehna’ released in 1983. This movie was certified by the Central Board of Film Certification, which is a statutory body of the government, and is available for public viewing since then. No complaint is stated to have been filed till today that the said scene of the movie has hurt the feelings of a particular community of society,” the court said.

The court told Mr Zubair to give his passport to the investigating agency.