The Delhi High Court on Wednesday granted interim protection from arrest to fact-checking website Alt News’ co-founder Mohammed Zubair, who has been accused of “harassing and torturing” a minor girl online, Live Law reported. Two first information reports were filed against Zubair last week after a complaint by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights.
The court’s order came on Zubair’s petition to cancel the FIRs, which were filed in Delhi and Raipur, under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act and the Information Technology Act.
A single-judge bench of Justice Yogesh Khanna ordered the Delhi government and the deputy commissioner of police (cyber cell) to submit a report within eight weeks on the investigation in the case. The bench also asked the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights to respond to Zubair’s petition and listed the matter for hearing on December 8.
The FIRs against Zubair are related to a comment he made on Twitter on August 6. A Twitter user named Jagdish Singh had responded to one of Zubair’s posts with an abusive message. Zubair, in his response to Singh, pointed out that his Twitter profile picture showed a little girl. “Does your cute grand daughter know about your part time job of abusing people on social media?” Zubair had asked. “I suggest you to change your profile pic.” He had blurred the child’s image in his response.
Zubair’s lawyer Colin Gonsalves told the court that his client was often harassed and abused because of his work. He alleged that Singh was a “serial harasser” who criticised anyone with liberal and progressive opinions.
The Delhi government’s lawyer Rahul Mehra, meanwhile, said that Zubair’s credentials don’t give him the authority to do something illegal. “Alt News is doing a human service, it has a legitimate space in our country as a fact checker,” he said. “However, it doesn’t give a license to the Petitioner to commit any illegality. Fact-checkers should not be hounded by state agencies, there should be a balance.”
Alt News had on Sunday expressed its support for Zubair. “An attempt is being made to hound co-founder of Alt News, Mohammed Zubair, through misuse of legal apparatus,” the website’s founder Pratik Sinha had said. “Alt News stands by Mohammed Zubair. Zubair has been in the forefront of fighting fake narratives, and his work hurts those who have weaponised misinformation to subvert the Indian democracy.”