The Editors Guild of India (EGI) on Tuesday condemned the arrest on Monday 27 June 2022 of fact-checking website Alt-News’ co-founder Mohammed Zubair. The police said that the organisation’s “alert vigilance was resented by those who use disinformation as a tool to polarise the society and rake nationalist sentiments.”
Called to Delhi Police Cyber Crime Unit’s office in Dwarka on Monday afternoon for questioning in a 2020 POCSO case, Zubair was instead arrested for a tweet that he had posted in 2018. The tweet in question is a photo of a hotel with its board reading ‘Honeymoon hotel’ repainted to ‘Hanuman hotel.’ In fact, the image is an un-retouched still from a movie that was released to the public after approval by the Censor Board. It was recently quote-tweeted by a user who alleged his religious sentiments were hurt.
The police booked Zubair under sections 153 A (promoting enmity between different religious groups) and 295 A (malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings) of the Indian Penal Code. The Editors Guild of India condemning the arrest, released a statement. “In a bizarre turn of events, Zubair was called in for questioning by the special cell of Delhi Police in a case from 2020, for which he already had protection against arrest from the Delhi High Court. However, when Zubair responded to the summons, he was arrested in relation to a criminal investigation initiated earlier in the month, after an anonymous Twitter handle alleged that Zubair’s 2018 post was hurting religious sentiments,” says the EGI statement.
The EGI statement added that the Alt-News website has done some great work in identifying fake news. It was signed by the EGI president Seema Mustafa, general secretary Sanjay Kapoor and treasurer Anant Nath. “In fact, it was an exposure of toxic remarks of a ruling party spokesperson on a TV channel that allowed the party to make amends,” the statement reads. This refers to Zubair’s previous tweets that led the BJP to remove Nupur Sharma as a spokesperson for her alleged remarks against prophet Muhammed.
Ironically on the front page of The Indian Express, the story of Zubair’s arrest was printed next to the story of prime minister Modi making a commitment to ensure a resilient democracy by protecting online and offline content. The Editor’s Guild also demanded that the Delhi police immediately release Zubair because it would be “necessary to buttress the commitments made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the G-7 meet in Germany to ensure a resilient democracy by protecting online and offline content. ”
The PCI statement said, “It is ironic that Muhammad Zubair’s arrest by the Delhi Police came on a day when India joined G7 and four other countries to protect free speech ‘online and offline.’ Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended the G7 meet in Germany where the signatories also committed to protect freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief and promoting inter-faith dialogue.”
In its statement, the EGI asked, “Are the Union Home Ministry and Delhi Police not on the same page with the Prime Minister on the commitment to freedom of expression?”