The Supreme Court has just thwarted one such effort when it ordered the release of Mohammed Zubair, the co-founder of Alt News
Personal liberty is one of the most important rights the Indian Constitution guarantees its citizens but the nation has often found ingenious ways to circumvent the constitutional barrier and rob them of it.
This is true especially when it wants to muzzle the voices of people whom it suspects to be asking uncomfortable questions. What is strange is that the efforts look very legal, too, on the face of it.
The Supreme Court has just thwarted one such effort when it ordered the release of Mohammed Zubair, the co-founder of fact-checking website Alt News. He was booked in one case in Delhi and six others in Uttar Pradesh over a 2018 tweet which some people felt hurt their religious sentiments.
The apex court did not just grant the journalist bail but exposed the “vicious circle” governments had created to make sure that the man will be subjected to “endless rounds of proceedings before diverse courts”. The court found that the gravamen in all the FIRs is the same and that the State was “weaponising the criminal law,” as the journalist’s lawyer put it. The court did not lose sight of a state government setting up a special investigation team in order to investigate a case of religious sentiments being hurt and it ordered it be disbanded.
The apex court has of late been very vocal about the constitutional guarantee to liberty and has been insisting on the State and its agencies to go by the law when they want to curtail it. It recently asked the government to consider introducing a bail act to streamline the process; and the Chief Justice himself was critical of keeping people under arrest without trial. In the latest order, the court has reminded the government that “the existence of the power to arrest must be distinguished from the exercise of the power of arrest… the exercise of the power of arrest must be pursued sparingly”.
It is now for the courts in the country to imbibe the grain of the order, weaponise the Constitution and stand between the citizen and a vindictive State machinery.