Indian journalist who exposed BJP leaders’ anti-Islam speeches arrested
Opposition leaders strongly condemn Zubair’s arrest
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Police in India have arrested the co-founder of a fact-checking website who has been a vocal critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government.
Mohammed Zubair of Alt News has been accused of insulting religious beliefs on Twitter, a network of media organisations said.
Opposition leaders and activists have condemned the arrest. They said it was a clear attempt by the Hindu-nationalist government to clamp down on those who expose hate speech.
Mr Zubair recently highlighted comments of a spokesperson of the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) during a television debate. His tweet was widely shared and led to several Muslim countries lodging strong protests with India.
In recent weeks, Hindu nationalists have drawn attention to past comments made by Mr Zubair and demanded that he be prosecuted for hurting their religious feelings.
Mr Zubair was detained over a complaint from a Twitter account that said he insulted Hindus in a 2018 post commenting on the renaming of a hotel after the Hindu monkey god Hanuman, the ANI news agency reported, citing Delhi Police sources.
Senior opposition leaders, including Rahul Gandhi, condemned the arrest of journalist and Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair evening on the charges of hurting religious sentiments under relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
Taking to Twitter, the former Congress president said, “Every person exposing BJP’s hate, bigotry and lies is a threat to them. Arresting one voice of truth will only give rise to a thousand more.” Gandhi added, “Truth ALWAYS triumphs over tyranny. #DaroMat.”
According to media reports, Zubair has been charged based on “highly provocative” tweets allegedly posted by him, said a police official. He has been booked under sections 153 (wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot—if rioting be committed—if not committed) and 295A (outraging religious feelings of any class) of the IPC. The Delhi Police special cell has requested a four-day remand of the journalist.
Taking to Twitter, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) chief Asaduddin Owaisi said, “@DelhiPolice does nothing about anti-Muslim genocidal slogans, but acts swiftly against “crime” of reporting hate speech & countering misinformation.”
Speaking along similar lines, Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien tweeted, “Strongly condemn the arrest of one of the world’s finest journalists @zoo_bear who exposes the BJP’s #FakeNews factory every single day. PM @narendramodi and @AmitShah for all the power you wield, you are essentially COWARDS.”
A Rashtriya Janata Dal MP also condemned the arrest and said, “Making hate speech is no crime but reporting/exposing such speeches are criminal activities and that’s why @zoo_bear has been arrested. And irony dies hundred deaths. The great LEADER invokes #Emergency in the land of #ThirdReich & allows dissent in any form to be killed at home.”
According to Alt News co-founder Pratik Sinha, Zubair was allegedly arrested in a 2020 case for which he already had “protection” from the high court. The Delhi Police still arrested Zubair “after having sufficient evidence on record”, said DCP (Special Cell) KPS Malhotra.
Police in the Indian capital have arrested Zubair on charges of hurting religious sentiments for a tweet he posted in 2018. Zubair, co-founder of fact-checking website Alt News, was arrested on Monday evening in New Delhi and remanded for a day in police custody, officials and media reports said.
Zubair was arrested following a complaint by a Twitter handle @balajikijaiin this month, in which the concerned person alleged the 39-year-old Muslim journalist had 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’s other co-founder, Pratik Sinha, said on Twitter no notice was given to Zubair before his arrest. “He is currently detained inside a police bus in Burari for more than an hour,” Sinha said, referring to a New Delhi neighbourhood where Zubair was to be produced before a magistrate authorised the arrest.
In another tweet, Sinha wrote: “After the medical examination, Zubair is being taken to an undisclosed location. Neither Zubair’s lawyers or I are being told where. We are in the police van with him. No police is wearing any name tag.”
Zubair, a former telecom engineer from the southern IT hub of Bengaluru, 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 Hindu right-wing portals, and claims made by members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or its supporters.
Zubair and Sinha have been facing online trolling and police cases for their work for years.
Delhi Police spokeswoman Suman Nalwa confirmed Zubair’s arrest and said Section 153 (giving provocation with intent to cause a riot) and Section 295A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings) of the Indian Penal Code have been invoked against the journalist.
When asked about Sinha’s claims on Twitter that no prior notice was given or that Zubair was taken to an undisclosed location, Nalwa said: “I have not seen the tweets and I don’t respond to tweets.”