Mohammed Zubair was arrested last month over what police claim was a “highly provocative” 2018 tweet aimed at straining ties between majority Hindus and minority Muslims.
India’s top court has granted bail to a Muslim journalist and ordered his release from jail, more than three weeks after he was detained for allegedly hurting religious sentiments through his tweets.
In its decision, the Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered Mohammed Zubair’s immediate release from New Delhi's Tihar jail and asked authorities to combine all cases against him into one.
"In (the) present case (there is) no justification to keep him in continued detention and subject him to an endless round of proceedings in various courts,” the court said.
It also chided the Uttar Pradesh government for asking the court to stop the journalist from tweeting. “How can you tell a journalist he cannot write,” Justice Dhananjaya Yeshwant Chandrachud said.
Zubair, a co-founder of fact-checking website Alt News, and vocal critic of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was arrested by Delhi police after an anonymous Twitter user lodged a complaint over a 2018 post.
Police in Uttar Pradesh state later charged him in a separate case for using the term "hatemongers” for three Hindu monks who made inflammatory comments about Muslims, with at least one calling for “genocide” of the minority community.
The Uttar Pradesh police also charged him with criminal conspiracy, destroying evidence and receiving foreign funds in at least half a dozen other cases.
Zubair’s arrest came after he highlighted comments made by the now-suspended spokesperson of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party about Prophet Muhammad in June that drew a global diplomatic backlash for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's administration.
Retribution for exposing hate speech
Activists, journalists and opposition politicians decried Zubair's arrest as the latest example of shrinking media freedom under Modi’s government.
Journalists and government critics suspect Zubair is facing retribution for exposing hate speech against Muslims who have been facing attacks by Hindu nationalists.
Founded in 2017 as a nonprofit organisation, Alt News is India’s most prominent fact-checking news website and has gained a reputation for its reporting on hate speech and debunking misinformation, particularly by Hindu nationalists.
Its founders, including Zubair, have in the past faced online trolling and threats by right-wing groups, some of them linked to the Hindu nationalist BJP.
Journalists across India have been targeted increasingly for their work in recent years.
Some have been arrested on criminal charges over posts on social media, where they routinely face threats and trolling. Some journalists' Twitter accounts and news websites have also been suspended on government orders.