Centre targeting Mohammed Zubair to make media afraid of demanding accountability, says Alt News
The journalist was arrested by the Delhi Police on June 27. After the SC granted him bail in a case filed in UP, the Lakhimpur Kheri police sought his custody.
Fact-checking website Alt News on Saturday said that journalist Mohammed Zubair was being targeted so that media organisations are afraid of demanding accountability from the establishment.
“Our friend and colleague Mohammed Zubair, who is also the co-founder of Alt News, continues to be hounded as the establishment is embroiling him in one case after another,” the website said in a statement. “However, the organisation stands firmly behind Zubair and will support his fight in every way.”
The journalist was arrested by the Delhi Police on June 27 for allegedly hurting religious sentiments through a tweet that he had posted in March 2018. Subsequently, the police also charged Zubair with criminal conspiracy, causing the disappearance of evidence and violating foreign funding norms.
Days later, the police in Uttar Pradesh wanted his custody for calling three Hindutva supremacists as hatemongers in a tweet. Notably, all three of the seers – 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.
On June 1, the Uttar Pradesh Police booked Zubair under Section 295A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings) of the Indian Penal Code as well as Section 67 (publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form) of the Information Technology Act.
The action was taken based on a complaint by Bhagwan Sharan, who identifies himself as the district head of Hindutva organisation Rashtriya Hindu Sher Sena.
On July 8, the Supreme Court granted the 39-year-old a five-day temporary bail in the case after his counsel informed the court that he was facing death threats. Though, he will remain in custody until he gets bail in the original case for which the Delhi Police have arrested him.
Soon after the interim bail verdict, a court in Lakhimpur Kheri issued a warrant summoning Zubair before it on July 11.
The case in Lakhimpur Kheri was filed in September after a court order. The complainant, Ashish Kumar Katiyar, had alleged that Zubair circulated false news on Twitter in a bid to disturb communal harmony. The police had booked Zubair under Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code, which relates to promoting enmity between social groups.
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.
In Saturday’s statement, Alt News said that Zubair was being persecuted for fighting “the rot in the system”. The fact-checking website added, “And that makes this our collective fight.”
In May, Zubair was the first one to point out Bharatiya Janata Party leader Nupur Sharma’s derogatory comments about Prophet Muhammad during a debate on Times Now television channel, which resulted in widespread outrage. After his tweet went viral, the BJP faced backlash from Muslims in India and abroad, including a number of Gulf countries. On June 5, the party suspended Sharma.