New Delhi: A Delhi court rejected the bail application of fact-check website Alt News’s co-founder Mohammad Zubair — who was arrested earlier this week over a 2018 tweet — Saturday after police said that they were investigating him for violations under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act.
Zubair had moved a bail application before the Patiala House court Saturday after his four days of police custody ended. He’s been sent to judicial custody for 14 days.
Delhi Police told the court they had added sections of the FCRA to the original First Information Report.
Police claimed that Pravda Media Foundation — a not-for-profit under which Alt-News functions — has received funds from various countries, including Pakistan, Syria, Bahrain, UAE, and Qatar. Zubair’s a director at Pravda Foundation, along with Pratik Sinha and Nirjhari Sinha.
Among the various sections added to the FIR is section 35 of the FCRA, which reads: “Whoever accepts, or assists any person, political party or organisation in accepting, any foreign contribution or any currency or security from a foreign source, in contravention of any provision of this Act or any rule or order made thereunder, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to five years, or with fine, or with both”.
Police also told the court Saturday that they had added sections 201 (evidence destruction) for allegedly wiping out his phone and 120-B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code to the original FIR.
“From the analysis of the reply received from Razorpay Payment gateway, we found that there are various transactions, in which either the mobile phone number is of outside India or the IP address is of foreign countries,” K.P.S Malhotra, Deputy Commissioner of Police, the Intelligence Fusion and Strategic Operations (IFSO), told the press earlier in the day.
A source in the Delhi Police told ThePrint that details on the account holders from where the funds were sent are awaited.
“Details related to the account holders whether they are foreign nationals or Indian nationals are awaited and are part of the investigation as well. This is an essential part of the investigation,” the source said.
“Due diligence will be followed and we won’t be able to divulge exactly what we are investigating. It will be a process and we will find out the root of the problem,” KPS Malhotra said.
Zubair was arrested Monday over a 2018 tweet after he was summoned for questioning for a different case dating back to 2020. He was initially booked under sections 153-A (promoting enmity) and 295-A (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings) of the Indian Penal Code.
Soutik Banerjee, one of the counsels appearing for Zubair, told ThePrint: “We are saying categorically that no funds sent to Zubair, and all donations received by Alt News are from Indian nationals. [There’s] no foreign donation”.
‘Donation by Indian passport holders isn’t foreign donation’
Malhotra told the press earlier in the day that “a total of about Rs 2,31,933/- has been received by the Pravda Media Foundation”.
The other locations from where the foundation is believed to gave received are Baladiyat ad Dawhah, Sharjah, Stockholm, Aichi, Abu Dhabi, Bangkok, Western Australia, Manama, The Netherlands, Singapore, Victoria, New York, England, Riyadh Region, Washington, Kansas, New Jersey, Ontario, California, Texas, Lower Saxony, Bern, Dubai, Uusimaa and Scotland.
However, a look through Zubair’s Twitter account shows that the fact-checker has said on several occasions that Alt News only accepts funds from Indian banks and Indian nationals living abroad with Indian bank accounts because it doesn’t have an FCRA certificate.
Under Section 6 of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010, any charitable organisation, trust, or company that receives foreign funds needs permission from the central government.
Aditya Shrivastava, a Delhi-based lawyer who works on FCRA cases involving non-governmental organisations, said donations sent by an individual holding an Indian passport cannot be called a foreign donation.
“All Indians abroad with residency permits can contribute without a specified limit to any organisation,” he said. “One also has to go into the nuances of a person’s citizenship type because that will also matter in this case.”
Shrivastava told ThePrint that Section 35 of the FCRA has a broad view on donations from abroad. He also said that the Delhi Police haven’t specified the crime in Zubair’s case.
“They have just mentioned the penalties without delving into the specific crime,” he said.
On the use of Indian bank accounts, the lawyer said, “based on [a] pure reading of the law, there is no caveat on Indian Bank accounts as such. The law does not specify exactly whether the donations are supposed to be channeled via an Indian Bank account”, adding that a compounding aspect of the FCRA is that a person proven guilty could pay just pay a specific fine instead of serving a sentence.
This report has been updated to reflect that Mohammad Zubair had moved a bail application after the end of his four days of police custody, not five days.