New Delhi, India – Police in the Indian capital have arrested journalist Mohammed Zubair on charges of insulting religious feelings for a tweet he posted in 2018.
Zubair, co-founder of fact-checking site Alt News, was arrested in New Delhi late Monday and taken into custody for a day, officials and media said.
Zubair was arrested following a complaint filed by a Twitter account @balajikijai this month, in which the person concerned alleged that the 39-year-old Muslim journalist insulted Hindus by commenting on the renaming of a hotel after the Hindu monkey god Hanuman.
His arrest came five days after Twitter received a request from the government claiming his account violated Indian laws.
Alt News’ other co-founder, Pratik Sinha, said on Twitter that no notice was given to Zubair before his arrest.
“He is currently being held in a police bus in Burari for more than an hour,” Sinha said, referring to a New Delhi neighborhood where Zubair was to be taken before a magistrate authorized the arrest.
In another tweet, Sinha wrote, “After the medical examination, Zubair is taken to an undisclosed location. Neither Zubair’s lawyers nor I know where. We are in the police van with him. No police officer wears a name tag.
Zubair, a former telecommunications engineer from the South Bengaluru IT hub, and Sinha, a software engineer from Ahmedabad, founded Alt News in 2017.
Since then, the website has busted numerous fake news stories, mostly pushed by right-wing Hindu portals, and claims made by members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or its supporters.
Zubair and Sinha have faced trolling cases and online police for their work for years.
I wonder why Delhi police are in such a hurry to bring Zubair from Dwarka to a duty magistrate’s residence in Burariat at this hour? Why not just present it to the ordinary court tomorrow before the end of 24 hours, that is, not until tomorrow afternoon?
— Pratik Sinha (@free_thinker) June 27, 2022
Delhi police spokeswoman Suman Nalwa confirmed Zubair’s arrest to Al Jazeera and said Section 153 (provocation with intent to cause a riot) and Section 295A (deliberate acts malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings) of the Indian Penal Code were invoked against the journalist. .
Asked about Sinha’s claims on Twitter that no notice was given or that Zubair was taken to an undisclosed location, Nalwa said, “I haven’t seen the tweets and I don’t respond to the tweets. “
“Another drop for freedom of the press”
Journalists, activists and opposition leaders have condemned Zubair’s arrest, demanding his immediate release and calling the police action an “attack on the truth”.
In a statement posted on Twitter, the DIGIPUB News India Foundation, a network of digital media organizations, said the use of “strict” laws as tools against journalists must end.
Digipub strongly condemns the arrest of Mohammed Zubair, co-founder of Alt News. pic.twitter.com/POYEaGIdAI
— DIGIPUB News India Foundation (@DigipubIndia) June 27, 2022
Steven Butler, Asia program coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), said Zubair’s arrest “marks a new low for press freedom in India.”
“Authorities must release Zubair immediately and unconditionally and allow him to continue his work as a journalist without further interference,” Butler said, according to a statement posted on CPJ’s website.
India ranks 150th in the 2022 World Press Freedom Index, published by the press watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
Last month, on World Press Freedom Day, 10 human rights groups said Indian authorities were prosecuting journalists and critics under strict laws for criticizing government policies .
Rahul Gandhi, the Congress party’s main opposition leader, said “anyone exposing the BJP’s hatred, bigotry and lies is a threat to them (the government)”.
“Stopping one voice of truth will only stir up a thousand more. Truth ALWAYS triumphs over tyranny,” Gandhi wrote.
Asaduddin Owaisi, a prominent Muslim parliamentarian and politician, said Zubair was arrested in “total violation of due process”.
“Delhi Police Do Nothing Against Genocidal Anti-Muslim Slogans But Act Quickly Against The ‘Crime’ Of Reporting Hate Speech And Tackling Misinformation,” he tweeted.
New Delhi-based scholar and activist Apoorvanand told Al Jazeera that Zubair’s arrest “clearly shows that this regime will not tolerate those who continue to expose the sources of hatred and violence in India.”
“Zubair was a journalist who kept exposing half-truths or lies propagated by this regime’s network,” said the Hindi literature professor at Delhi University.
Two days before Zubair’s arrest, prominent Indian rights activist Teesta Setalvad was arrested by the counter-terrorism branch of the police in Gujarat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state.
Setalvad was picked up from her Mumbai home hours after Federal Home Minister Amit Shah, a close aide to Modi, accused her of giving ‘unfounded information’ to police about the Gujarat violence in 2002, in which at least 1,000 people, an overwhelming majority of them Muslims, were massacred when Modi was the chief minister of the state.
Setalvad was formally arrested on Sunday, with rights group Amnesty International calling it “direct retaliation against those who dare to question” the government’s human rights record.
Referring to the two arrests, Apoorvanand said, “This is a very dangerous moment for Indian democracy and the lowest point Indian democracy could have reached. Very alarming and the world must take heed.