India journalist Mohammed Zubair arrested for 2018 Twitter post | Press freedom news

New Delhi, India – The police in the Indian capital have arrested the journalist Mohammed Zubair accused of hurting religious feelings for a tweet he posted in 2018.

Zubair, co-founder of the Alt News website for fact-checking, was arrested Monday night in New Delhi and remanded in custody for a day in police custody, officials and media reports said.

Zubair was arrested following a complaint from a Twitter taker @balajikijaiin this month, in which the concerned person claimed that the 39-year-old Muslim journalist had insulted Hindus by commenting on the renaming of a hotel after the Hindu monkey Hanuman.

His arrest came five days after Twitter received a request from the government claiming that his account violated Indian laws.

Alt News’ other co-founder, Pratik Sinha, said on Twitter that no message was given to Zubair before his arrest.

“He is currently being held inside a police bus in Burari for more than an hour,” Sinha said, referring to a neighborhood in New Delhi where Zubair was to be produced before a magistrate approved the arrest.

In another tweet, Sinha wrote: “After the medical examination, Zubair is taken to an undisclosed location. Neither Zubair’s lawyers nor I are told where. We’re in the police car with him. No police are wearing any name tags. “

Zubair, a former telecom engineer from the southern IT center in Bengaluru, and Sinha, a software engineer from Ahmedabad, founded Alt News in 2017.

Since then, the site has destroyed a number of fake news stories, mostly pressured by Hindu right-wing portals, and allegations 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 to Al Jazeera, saying that section 153 (which provides provocation with intent to cause a riot) and section 295A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to upset religious sentiment) in Indian criminal law have been invoked against the journalist. .

Asked about Sinha’s claims on Twitter that no advance notice was given or that Zubair was taken to an undisclosed location, Nalwa said: “I have not seen the tweets and I do not respond to tweets.”

«Another low goal for press freedom»

Journalists, activists and opposition leaders have condemned Zubair’s arrest, demanded his immediate release and called the police an “attack on the truth”.

In a statement posted on Twitter, the DIGIPUB News India Foundation, a network of digital media organizations, said that the use of “strict” laws as a tool against journalists must stop.

Steven Butler, Asia program coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), said Zubair’s arrest “marks another low point for press freedom in India”.

“The authorities must immediately and unconditionally release Zubair, and allow him to continue his journalistic work without further interference,” Butler said, according to a statement posted on the CPJ website.

India ranks 150th on the 2022 World Press Freedom Index, published by the press watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

At World Press Freedom Day last month, 10 rights groups said Indian authorities were prosecuting journalists and critics under strict laws to criticize government policies.

Right after Zubair’s arrest, hashtags #IstandWithZubair and #ReleaseZubair started trending on Twitter in India.

Rahul Gandhi, the main opposition leader of the Congress party, said that “every person who exposes the BJP’s hatred, bigotry and lies is a threat to them (the government)”.

“Arresting one voice of truth will only give rise to a thousand more. The truth ALWAYS triumphs over tyranny, “Gandhi wrote.

Asaduddin Owaisi, a parliamentarian and leading Muslim politician, said Zubair had been arrested in “total breach of justice”.

“Delhi police do nothing about anti-Muslim genocide law firms, but act quickly against ‘crime’ by reporting hate speech and countering misinformation,” he tweeted.

New Delhi-based academic and activist Apoorvanand said of Al Jazeera Zubair’s arrest “making it clear that this regime will not tolerate those who continue to expose the sources of hatred and violence in India”.

“Zubair was a journalist who continued to break half the truths or lies spread by the network of this regime,” said the professor of Hindu literature at Delhi University.

Two days before Zubair’s arrest, prominent Indian rights activist Teesta Setalvad was picked up by the anti-terror wing of the Gujarat police, home of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Setalvad was taken from her home in Mumbai hours after Federal Interior Minister Amit Shah, a close ally of Modi, accused her of giving “baseless information” to police about the 2002 Gujarat violence, in which at least 1,000 people, an overwhelming majority . of them Muslims, were massacred when Modi was prime minister.

Setalvad was formally arrested on Sunday, and the rights group Amnesty International called it a “direct retaliation against those who dare to question” the government’s human rights history.

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 needs to notice. “