A Delhi court on Saturday dismissed the bail petition of Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair and sent him to 14-days of judicial custody.
Announcing the decision, the court cited the nature and gravity of the offences against him and observed that the matter is at the initial stage of investigation.
Zubair is accused in a case related to an "objectionable tweet" he had posted in 2018 against a Hindu deity.
Earlier in the day, Delhi Police created confusion as it incorrectly stated before the court announced its decision that Zubair's bail plea has been rejected and he has been sent to 14-day judicial custody.
DCP KPS Malhotra later admitted to incorrectly informing the media that Zubair was sent to 14-day judicial custody. Zubair's lawyer Soutik Banerjee also said at the time that the court was then yet to pronounce its order.
Malhotra said, "I had a word with my IO [investigating officer], I misheard it due to noise and inadvertently the message was posted in the broadcast."
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 have 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.
Delhi Police said Pravda Media, under which Alt News operates, received over Rs 2 lakh through various transactions wherein either the mobile phone number or the IP address was of foreign countries.
Earlier, Delhi Police also listed criminal conspiracy and destruction of evidence as the newly added charges while producing Zubair at the Patiala House court.The new charges have been added along with Section 35 of the FCRA or Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act.
From the analysis of a reply received from Razorpay payment gateway, it was revealed that there were various transactions in which either the mobile phone number was of outside India or the IP address was of foreign countries and cities, including Bangkok, Australia, Manama, North Holland, Singapore, Victoria, New York, England, Riyadh Region, Sharjah, Stockholm, Abu Dhabi, Washington, Kansas, New Jersey, Ontario, California, Texas, Lower Saxony, Bern, Dubai, Scotland, a statement issued by the police said.
A total of Rs 2,31,933 was received by Pravda Media through these transactions, it added.
Public Prosecutor Atul Srivastava alleged that the accused accepted money through Razorpay payment gateway from Pakistan, Syria and other countries, which requires further investigation.
Delhi Police has also sought 14 days of judicial custody for the journalist. Zubair's lawyer, meanwhile, has moved bail application before the court.
Addition of criminal conspiracy to the FIR also made way for the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to probe the money laundering angle.
Special Cell of the Delhi Police initially pressed charges of promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion and deliberate acts to outrage religious feelings of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) against Mohammad Zubair.
Advocate Vrinda Grover, appearing for the accused, moved a bail application before the court 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".
On arguments that the seizure of laptop and mobile phone were illegal and were affecting the privacy of the accused, the court observed that it was part of the police file that the mobile phone seized from the accused initially on June 27 was found to be having no data.
In response to the accused's claim that his previous mobile was stolen, the court said, "Nothing was found on record to show that any mobile phone of the accused was lost, although said plea has been taken now in the present application."
The court further said the accused's concern about sealing of electronic devices could not be decided at the present stage since the investigation regarding the data is at the initial stage and the electronic devices seized during execution of search warrants are still being looked into.
Zubair's tweet apparently showed an image of a hotel signboard repainted from “Honeymoon Hotel” to “Hanuman Hotel”. The image is a screenshot from the 1983 Hrishikesh Mukherjee Bollywood classic 'Kissi Se Na Kehna'. the film was cleared by the Censor Board at the time.
In the tweet, Zubair had written, "Before 2014: Honeymoon Hotel, After 2014: Hanuman Hotel", in an apparent dig to the BJP government that came into power in 2014.
The incident, which coincided with the G7 Summit in Germany attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi which stressed the need for safeguarding freedom of press and civil society, has drawn flak from the media, press bodies as well as a host of Opposition leaders.
(With PTI inputs)