Mohammed Zubair: Indian police arrest Muslim journalist accused of insulting Hindus

Mohammed Zubair, co-founder of fact-checking website Alt News, which debunks misinformation in Indian media, was arrested on Monday and taken into police custody overnight, said KPS Malhotra, a deputy commissioner with Delhi’s Cyber ​​Crime Unit.

Malhotra said Zubair was arrested under two sections of India’s penal code related to maintaining religious harmony.

Zubair often tweets criticism of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for what he and other critics describe as a crackdown on the rights of the country’s roughly 200 million Muslims.

His arrest comes amid repeated accusations by critics that the BJP is using colonial-era laws to stifle any form of criticism and encourage self-censorship.

Zubair’s lawyer, Kawalpreet Kaur, said the journalist had been summoned for questioning in connection with a criminal probe into his social media posts in 2020 – from which he had previously been granted immunity from arrest by the Delhi High Court. But when he responded to the subpoena, police arrested him on another case, she said.

Kaur showed CNN a police ad in which a Twitter user accused Zubair of insulting Hindus on the platform in 2018 in a post about renaming a hotel after a Hindu god.

She accused the authorities of not following due process and not notifying Zubair.

Malhotra, the deputy commissioner, did not respond to CNN’s questions about whether the police had properly handled the arrest.

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Earlier this month, Zubair had criticized the BJP’s now-suspended national spokesman, Nupur Sharma, for making derogatory comments about the Islamic prophet Mohammed – remarks that had sparked a diplomatic row. At least 15 Muslim-majority nations have condemned Sharma’s comments, some calling out India’s ambassador and calling the comments “Islamophobic”.

Among Zubair’s recent social media posts are videos he claims of Hindu extremists making hate speech against Islam, a minority religion in India where almost 80% of the people are Hindus.

Zubair’s arrest has outraged politicians, journalists and news organizations who are calling for his release.

The Editors Guild of India in a expression On Tuesday, it said it was “obvious that Alt News’ vigilant vigilance has been resented by those who use disinformation as a tool to polarize society and stoke nationalist sentiments.”

Shashi Tharoor, an MP for India’s opposition Congress party, said the arrest was an “attack on the truth”.

“India’s few fact-checking services, particularly alt news, are performing an important service in our truth-telling political environment, which is riddled with disinformation,” Tharoor said wrote Monday on Twitter. “They expose falsehoods by whoever commits them. Arresting (Zubair) is an attack on the truth. He should be released immediately.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists on Monday urged Indian authorities to “immediately and unconditionally release” Zubair and “stop harassing him in retaliation for his work.”