India on Thursday told Germany that “uninformed comments” were not helpful and urged it to avoid such statements after Berlin criticised New Delhi for the arrest of Alt News co-founder and journalist Mohammed Zubair.
The journalist was arrested by the Delhi Police on June 27 for allegedly hurting religious sentiments in a tweet he had posted in March 2018. He was booked in another case on June 1 in Uttar Pradesh for calling three Hindutva supremacists “hatemongers” in a tweet and sent to judicial custody on Monday.
Earlier on Thursday, a court in Uttar Pradesh’s Sitapur denied bail to Zubair and granted the police his custody for seven days. The journalist will now be moved to Sitapur as he has been in custody in Delhi in connection with the 2018 tweet case.
Zubair has moved the Supreme Court seeking to quash the first information report in the Uttar Pradesh and also for bail.
At a media briefing, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said that the case was a “domestic issues” and that it was before the court.
“And I don’t think it would be appropriate for me or anyone else to comment on a case that is sub-judice,” Bagchi said. “I think the independence of our judiciary is well recognised and uninformed comments are unhelpful and should be avoided.”
A day ago, German foreign ministry’s had commented on Zubair’s arrest, stating that the importance of press freedom applies to India like the rest of the world.
A spokesperson had said that the German foreign ministry was aware of the cases registered against Zubair in India and that its embassy in New Delhi is “monitoring it very closely”.
“India describes itself as the world’s largest democracy,” the spokesperson had said. “So one can expect democratic values like freedom of expression and of the press to be given the necessary space there.”
The spokesperson had added: “Free reporting is beneficial to any society. And restrictions are a cause of concern. Journalists should not be persecuted and imprisoned for what they say and write.”
Notably, Zubair was arrested by the Delhi Police on the same day when India had signed a statement at the Group of Seven or G7 summit in Germany’s Munich, calling for “guarding the freedom, independence and diversity of civil society actors” and “protecting the freedom of expression and opinion online and offline”.
Several media organisations and Opposition leaders have criticised the Narendra Modi government, saying that Zubair’s arrest was “another low for press freedom in India”. India’s rank fell eight places to 150 among 180 countries in this year’s World Press Freedom Index published by media watchdog Reporters Without Borders.
Cases against Zubair in Delhi, UP
The first information report against Zubair in Delhi was based on a complaint by Sub-Inspector Arun Kumar, who said he was monitoring social media when he came across the March 2018 tweet after a handle named Hanuman Bhakt raised objections.
The four-year-old tweet featured an image of a signboard that had once read “Honeymoon Hotel” repainted to say “Hanuman Hotel”. The journalist’s lawyer has argued in court that the photo is a screenshot from a Hindi comedy film made in 1983.
The case in Uttar Pradesh was lodged on the complaint of Bhagwan Sharan, who identifies himself as the district head of Hindutva organisation Rashtriya Hindu Sher Sena.
Sharan had also said that his religious sentiments had been hurt by Zubair’s tweet. In his complaint, he had alleged that Zubair was inciting Muslims to murder Hindutva leaders.
Notably, all three of the Hindutva supremacists whom Zubair had described as “hatemongers” – Yati Narasinghanand Saraswati, Bajrang Muni and Anand Swaroop – have been booked in hate speech cases in the past few months for making inflammatory statements about Muslims.