Fact-checker Mohammed Zubair today told the Supreme Court that he's getting death threats, and sought a halt on the case against him in Sitapur, Uttar Pradesh. The court is likely to hear his plea tomorrow.
Mr Zubair is in Delhi's Tihar Jail and has at least two cases against him for allegedly hurting religious sentiments — one in Delhi over a four-year-old tweet in which he shared a screenshot from a film; the other in Sitapur, over calling three Hindu right-wing leaders "hatemongers".
His plea in the Supreme Court is against the Sitapur case. He has challenged the Allahabad High Court's order by which the court had refused to quash the FIR on June 10.
Mr Zubair's lawyer, Colin Gonsalves, argued for urgent listing at 2pm: “There are death threats against him... People have said that they will kill him. We are worried about his safety. Please see the urgency.” Justice Indira Banerjee ordered it to be listed tomorrow, “subject to clearance by the Chief Justice of India”.
The FIR — says Mr Zubair's plea — is meant to threaten him against doing his job and “to put fear among those who stand up against communal elements”. “There's a new police strategy in filing FIRs in hate crime cases… FIRs are filed against those protesting police inaction against the wrongdoers,” says the plea. “This is done with the intention of stifling freedom of speech of secular persons.”
The legal position now is that Mr Zubair remains in Tihar Jail as a Delhi court sent him to judicial custody for 14 days on July 2, after he'd been in police custody for five days. That's for the case registered over his tweet of March 2018, in which he'd shared a screenshot from a 1983 film.
He also went to the Delhi High Court for bail, but the court gave the police time to file its response. Then the police took him to Sitapur, 450 km away, for the other case. A local court there ordered judicial custody, so he remains in Tihar Jail.
Sections related to alleged illegalities in financial transactions, too, have been added to the Delhi FIR.
Mr Zubair has more than 5 lakh followers on Twitter where he shares fact-checks from Alt News, among other things.
Alt News was founded in 2017 as a non-profit, and is among the world's most prominent fact-checking outlets. Its founders — Mr Zubair and Pratik Sinha — have been facing online trolling and police cases, particularly by right-wing groups, for years.