Journalist Mohammed Zubair was on Monday sent to judicial custody for 14 days by a court in Uttar Pradesh’s Lakhimpur Kheri in a case registered against him in September for fact-checking a report carried by the television channel Sudarshan News about the Israel-Palestine dispute.
The court will hear his bail plea on July 13.
The complaint in the Lakhimpur Kheri case was filed by Ashish Kumar Katiyar, a journalist working with Sudarshan News. The police registered a first information report on September 18, 2021, after Katiyar approached a local court seeking directions for the same.
According to the first information report, Katiyar claimed that on May 14, 2021, in connivance with Twitter, Zubair had spread rumours against Sudarshan TV based on “false graphics”. The FIR did not reproduce the contents of the tweet, or mention its URL – uniform resource locator.
The tweet in contention was, however, posted on May 16, 2021, as Sudarshan News showed in a broadcast to defend itself.
In the tweet, Zubair had pointed out that Sudarshan News had superimposed a fabricated image of the Al Masjid An Nabawi mosque in Medina on a picture of the Gaza strip to falsely portray that the mosque was being destroyed in an Israeli rocket attack.
In his post, the journalist had also tagged the Twitter handles of the Uttar Pradesh Police, the director general of the force and the Noida Police.
The action against the co-founder of the fact-checking website AltNews was taken despite an FIR being filed against Sudarshan News on May 18 last year by Muslim organisation Raza Academy for using the doctored image in their broadcast, Newslaundry reported.
On May 20, the channel defended itself claiming that the doctored image was an example of “artistic freedom”. Notably, in 2020, the Supreme Court had said that Sudarshan News Editor-in-Chief Suresh Chavhanke was doing a “disservice to the nation” by airing a show that claimed to unveil an alleged conspiracy behind how Muslims have infiltrated the civil services.
In his complaint, Katiyar also alleged that Zubair had made an appeal to Muslims all over the world to create unrest and disrupt peace in India to create a “war-like situation”.
“However some Twitter users responded to accused no 1 [Zubair], following which he again made posts on May 15 to spread poison against the country,” the complainant alleged. The FIR did not specify the tweets in which Zubair had allegedly made such statements.
The FIR also named Twitter Inc and Twitter Communication as accused entities.
Cases against Zubair
The action against the journalist in Lakhimpur Kheri was taken after he was first 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 hatemongers in a tweet. A Sitapur court allowed the police application, and as a result, Zubair will stay in judicial custody in the Uttar Pradesh city until July 25.
Notably, all three of the seers mentioned by Zubair in his tweet related to the Sitapur case – 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.
In this case, the action was taken based on a complaint by Bhagwan Sharan, who identifies himself as the district head of the 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, the court in Lakhimpur Kheri issued a warrant summoning Zubair before it on Monday.
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”.