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Journalist Mohammed Zubair who flagged Prophet remark arrested by Delhi police

Jun 28, 2022 01:28 AM IST

Mohammed Zubair was arrested for allegedly promoting enmity between communities and outraging religious feelings in a 2018 tweet

Delhi Police on Monday arrested Mohammed Zubair, co-founder of fact-checking website Alt News, for allegedly promoting enmity between communities and outraging religious feelings in a 2018 tweet. His arrest sparked a wave of condemnation from Opposition politicians and civil society members, particularly since it came weeks after he flagged controversial comments on Prophet Mohammed made by former Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson Nupur Sharma.

In May, Mohammed Zubair, co-founder of fact-checking website Alt News, shared a video of former BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma making controversial comments on Prophet Mohammed in a television show. (Twitter)

The case was registered at the Special Cell police station under sections 153 A (promoting enmity between different groups) and 295 A (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage reli­gious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or reli­gious beliefs) on the complaint of a Twitter user with profile name “Hanuman Bhakt” and handle @ balajikijaiin, police said.

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“Delhi Police has registered a case after getting a complaint from a twitter handle, wherein it was alleged that Mohammed Zubair had tweeted a questionable image with a purpose to deliberately insult the god of a particular religion. Such tweets were getting retweeted and it appeared that there is a brigade of social media entities, who indulge in insult mongering thereby leading to a possible ramification on communal harmony and is overall against the maintenance of public tranquillity,” said KPS Malhotra deputy commissioner of police (DCP) of the Intelligence Fusion & Strategic Operations (IFSO) that is probing the case.

In the March 24, 2018 tweet, Zubair had said “Before 2014: Honeymoon Hotel. After 2014: Hanuman Hotel” and attached the image of a hotel signboard where the name of the establishment was ostensibly changed.

The handle that registered the complaint followed zero people and had 21 followers on Monday night. It had only one tweet on its timeline, from 10.59pm on June 19, that quoted Zubair’s 2018 tweet, tagged Delhi Police and IFSO unit, and said, “Linking our god Hanuman ji with honeymoon is direct insult of Hindus because he is brahmchari @DCP_CCC_Delhi kindly take action against this guy.”

In May, Zubair shared a video of Sharma making controversial comments on Prophet Mohammed in a television show. The remarks were later condemned by the government after it sparked furious responses from Muslim-majority countries in West Asia and South-East Asia, many of whom also summoned Indian envoys to register their displeasure. The BJP later suspended Sharma and expelled another spokesperson, Naveen Jindal, for the controversial remarks. Sharma is facing multiple FIRs, including one by Delhi Police, but has not been arrested.

Zubair was also involved in flagging videos of controversial congregations earlier this year in Haridwar , where threats of violence to Muslim, Christian and other minority communities were made.

“After the medical examination, Zubair is being taken to an undisclosed location. Neither Zubair’s lawyers nor I are being told where. We are in the police van with him. No police person is wearing any name tag,” said Pratik Sinha, Alt News co-founder.

Police said that another case under Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act was registered against Zubair at the special cell police station in 2020 in connection with a tweet. During the investigation, Delhi Police didn’t find anything objectionable.

“Whereas, subsequent tweets after his tweet led to a series of questionable and derogatory tweets. In the investigation of that case, Zubair had been earlier examined and the investigation is on the verge of conclusion. On Monday (June 27) Zubair joined the investigation in the 2020 case,” the police said in their statement.

Malhotra said that when Delhi Police was alerted by a Twitter handle that Zubair had earlier made an allegedly objectionable tweet that was “amplified’ by his followers, he was examined in this case and his role found objectionable.

“He was evasive on the questions and neither provided the necessary technical equipment for the purpose of the investigation nor cooperated in the investigation. During investigation, the conduct of Zubair was found questionable, which warranted his custodial interrogation to unravel the conspiracy in this matter. Accordingly, after having sufficient evidence on record we arrested him. He is being produced before the court for seeking police custody remand,” added the DCP.

Sinha defended Zubair. “Zubair was called today by special cell, Delhi for investigation in a 2020 case for which he already had a protection against arrest from the high court. However, today at around 6.45 pm we were told he has been arrested in some other FIR for which no notice was given which is mandatory under law for the Sections under which he has been arrested. Nor FIR copy is given to us despite repeated requests,” Sinha tweeted around 8pm.

The Delhi Police moved an application for Zubair’s one-day remand before a city court, which allowed the same after considering all the facts and merits of the case, a senior police officer said, requesting anonymity. Zubair was served notice under Section 41 (A) of Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), but he was evasive and not co-operating in the investigation, the officer said.

Counsel for Zubair also moved application for his bail, which was rejected, the officer further said. However, the court allowed the counsel of accused to meet him once a day for half an hour in police custody for providing the legal assistance.

The arrest sparked condemnation from opposition parties.

“Every person exposing BJP’s hate, bigotry and lies is a threat to them. Arresting one voice of truth will only give rise to a thousand more. Truth always triumphs over tyranny,” tweeted senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi.

“India’s few fact-checking services, especially @AltNews, perform a vital service in our post-truth political environment, rife with disinformation. They debunk falsehoods whoever perpetrates them. To arrest @zoo_bear is an assault on truth. He should be released immediately,” tweeted Congress MP Shashi Tharoor.

“Strongly condemn the arrest of one of the world’s finest journalists @zoo_bear who exposes the BJP’s #FakeNews factory every single day,” tweeted Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien.

All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) leader Asaduddin Owaisi said Zubair’s arrest is highly condemnable, alleging that the Alt News co-founder was arrested without any notice and in some unknown FIR. “Total violation of due process,” he alleged.

Bhatariya Janata Party (BJP) leader Kapil Mishra Tweeted, “Fake news peddler, jihadi propaganda gang member Zubair is arrested by Delhi Police. Count down was on for long as he was trying to cause communal tension and riots through his fake news platforms.”

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