Mohammed Zubair: Indian police arrest Muslim journalist accused of insulting Hindus

Mohammed Zubair, co-founder of the fact-checking website Alt News, which denies misinformation in Indian media, was arrested on Monday and remanded in custody overnight by police, said KPS Malhotra, a deputy commissioner in Delhi’s cybercrime unit.

Malhotra said Zubair was arrested under two parts of Indian criminal law related to maintaining religious harmony.

Zubair often tweets criticism of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for what he and other critics claim is an encroachment on the rights of the country’s around 200 million Muslims.

His arrest comes amid repeated accusations from critics that the BJP uses colonial-era laws to repeal any criticism and encourage self-censorship.

Zubair’s lawyer, Kawalpreet Kaur, said the journalist had been summoned for questioning in connection with a criminal investigation in 2020 of his posts on social media – which he had previously received protection against arrest by the Delhi High Court. But when he responded to the summons, the police arrested him over a separate case, she said.

Kaur showed CNN a police complaint in which a Twitter user accused Zubair of insulting Hindus on the platform in 2018, in a post about the renaming of a hotel after a Hindu god.

She accused the authorities of not following the correct procedure and of not informing Zubair.

Malhotra, the deputy commissioner, did not answer CNN’s question about whether the police had followed the correct procedure during the arrest.

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Earlier this month, Zubair had criticized the now-suspended BJP national spokesman, Nupur Sharma, for making derogatory remarks about Islam’s prophet Mohammed – statements that had sparked a diplomatic dispute. At least 15 Muslim-majority nations condemned Sharma’s statements, several of which summoned India’s ambassadors and described the comments as “Islamophobic”.

Among Zubair’s recent posts on social media are videos he claims show Hindu extremists holding hateful remarks against Islam, a minority religion in India where almost 80% of the population are Hindus.

Zubair’s arrest has upset politicians, journalists and news organizations, who have demanded his release.

The Editors Guild of India i en statement On Tuesday, it said it was “clear that Alt News’ vigilance was disliked by those who use disinformation as a tool to polarize society and rake in nationalist sentiment.”

Shashi Tharoor, a Member of Parliament from India’s opposition Congress party, said the arrest was an “attack on the truth”.

“India’s few fact – checking services, especially Alt News, are performing an important service in our political environment after the truth, full of misinformation,” Tharoor wrote on Twitter on Monday. “They deny untruths to those who commit them. Arresting (Zubair) is an attack on the truth. He should be released immediately.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists on Monday called on the Indian authorities to “immediately and unconditionally release” Zubair, and to “stop harassing him in retaliation for his work.”