On Tuesday, Mohammed Zubair, the co-founder of fact-check website Alt News, was remanded to four days in police custody. Zubair had been arrested by the Delhi Police the previous evening for a tweet from 2018 that was purportedly offensive to Hindus.
The four-year-old tweet featured an image of a signboard that had once read “Honeymoon Hotel” repainted to say “Hanuman Hotel”. As it turns out, it was a still from a Hindi comedy film made in 1983.
The Delhi Police filed a complaint against Zubair based on a tweet on June 19 by an anonymous Twitter user with the handle @balajikijaiin.
Zubair has been charged under Sections 153A of the Indian Penal Code(promoting enmity between different groups) and Section 295 (injuring or defiling a place of worship, with intent to insult the religion of any class).
Zubair’s lawyers and several social media users have pointed out some odd things about the sequence of events.
Here are seven curious questions about the case.
1. Why was Zubair arrested for tweeting a screenshot from a Hrishikesh Mukherjee movie?
The screenshot shared by Zubair is from a famous Hindi movie from 1983 called Kissi Se Na Kehna directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee. This romantic comedy is available on YouTube. Over the past four decades, the film has not elicited accusations that it is offensive to Hindus.
2. Why did the Delhi Police take action based on a tweet from an anonymous account?
Zubair’s tweet was brought to Delhi Police’s notice on June 19 by the anonymous user @balajikijaiin. The first information report was registered by the Delhi Police the next day.
Going by the name “Hanuman Bhakt”, the user, who had set up the account in October 2021, had published only tweet until Monday evening – asking the Delhi Police to take action against Zubair. The account had only three followers until Monday evening.
3. Why was action taken against a tweet that is more than four years old?
The tweet on the basis of which Zubair was arrested is from March 24, 2018. The Delhi Police, in its FIR, claims that Zubair’s tweet is “highly provocative” and “more than sufficient to incite feelings of hatred amongst people which can be detrimental for maintenance of public tranquility in society”.
However, several commentators insisted that Zubair’s arrest was an attempt to silence the government’s critics. In May, Zubair had drawn attention to BJP leader Nupur Sharma’s derogatory remarks about Prophet Mohammad during a debate on news channel Times Now.
After he tweeted a clip of Sharma’s comments, there were several protests in India and at least 15 countries condemned her statements. Sharma was suspended from the BJP on June 5.
4. Why has there not been action against other social media accounts that also shared the same image?
Other Twitter accounts had shared, liked and retweeted the same image as Zubair. However, no has been been taken against any of them.
In 2018, the Indian Express published an article that featured the image.
5. Why was Zubair ‘tricked’ into being arrested?
On Monday, Zubair was called in for questioning in a case registered against him in 2020 under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012. In September that year, the Delhi High Court had granted him interim protection from arrest in that case.
Zubair’s legal counsels said that the police had not informed him about the latest first information report against him. When he got to the station, he was served notice and then arrested. This is how Zubair was tricked into being arrested, his lawyers said.
However, the Delhi Police claim that when Zubair was questioned about his tweet, he was evasive and did not cooperate in the investigation, which is why they arrested him.
6. How did Republic TV get a copy of the remand before Zubair’s lawyers?
On Tuesday afternoon, Republic TV broadcoast images of Mohammed Zubair’s remand order from Monday evening. However, his lawyers said that they had not been given copy of the document despite asking for it.