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New Delhi: Fact-checker Mohammed Zubair’s lawyer today told a Delhi court that “formatting a phone is not illegal”, while the police claimed a criminal conspiracy, insisting that the case is “not just of a simple tweet”. The arguments came up during his bail plea hearing, which was caught in a controversy, too, after the police said he’d been denied bail even when the court has not yet announced a decision.  Mr Zubair, co-founder of Alt News, was arrested over a four-year-old tweet on June 27 for allegedly hurting religious sentiments, barely a month after he flagged a video of since-suspended BJP leader Nupur Sharma speaking against Prophet Mohammed on a TV show. He was in police custody for the past five days. Opposing his bail plea today in Delhi’s Patiala House court, police said Mr Zubair got donations from countries like Pakistan and Syria. They said sections related to destruction of evidence (formatted phone and deleted tweets) and criminal conspiracy have been added to the FIR, besides the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010. “It is not a case of time-barred. It is still a continuing offence as the tweet is still there,” the police lawyer argued.Mr Zubair’s lawyer underlined that the tweet was a screenshot from the 1983 film ‘Kissi Se Na Kehna’ which was cleared by the censor board. But the police said that when the film was released, “it was not the age of the internet”. “Donations are from Pakistan, Syria, so considering gravity, it’s not just a case of a simple tweet… He smartly deleted everything. Deletion of data from phone after FIR is important,” the police said.But Mr Zubair’s lawyer told the court that he did not know of the FIR until his arrest on June 27. The FIR was lodged on June 20 after a police officer saw a tweet that objected to Mr Zubair’s tweet. On the day of his arrest, he had been called for questioning in another matter, in which a court had already given him protection against arrest. “I (Zubair) was not aware of the FIR and phone was not summoned. It’s not illegal to format my phone. It is not arms and ammunition, or a drug. I take serious legal and constitutional objections,” the lawyer, Vrinda Grover, said on Mohammed Zubair’s behalf.Founded in 2017 as a non-profit, Alt News is among the world’s most prominent fact-checking outlets. Its founders — Pratik Sinha and Mohammed Zubair — have been facing online trolling and police cases, particularly by right-wing groups, for years. In a tweet after Mr Zubair’s arrest, Mr Sinha had said, “We at Alt News will continue to fight misinformation, disinformation and hate speech, and keep holding people and organisations accountable, and nothing can stop that.”

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