Co-founder of fact-checking website arrested in India – The Diplomat

Indian journalist Mohammed Zubair, center, wearing a cap, sits in a police vehicle after appearing in court in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, June 28, 2022.

Credit: AP Photo/Dinesh Joshi

The arrest of Mohammed Zubair, co-founder of fact-checking news site AltNews, in New Delhi on June 27 for allegedly hurting religious feelings and inciting enmity is another example of the crackdown on the Hindu nationalist government of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on critics and those who speak out against Hindutva violence.

According to police officials, Zubair was arrested following a complaint by an anonymous Twitter user, who goes by the name Hanuman Bhakt, about a tweet by Zubair in 2018.

In this TweeterZubair shared a screenshot of the 1983 Hindi film Kissi Se Na Kehna of the Hanuman Hotel, which was previously called “Honeymoon Hotel”. (Hanuman is the name of a Hindu deity.)

“Before 2014: Honeymoon Hotel, After 2014: Hanuman Hotel,” Zubair tweeted, an oblique reference to the Hindu nationalists who came to power in 2014 and the huge change India has undergone since.

“To bind our God Hanuman ji to the honeymoon is a direct insult to Hindus because he is brahmchari [bachelor]. @DCP_CCC_Delhi please take action against this guy,” tweeted the complainant, Hanuman Bhakt, identifying Delhi Police.

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Based on the complaint, Delhi police filed a complaint against Zubair for tweeting “a questionable image with the aim of deliberately insulting the god of a particular religion”, police investigating the case said.

While a tweet posted four years ago may have provided the government with a convenient excuse to arrest Zubair, recent events are more likely to have prompted police action.

On May 26, BJP national spokesperson Nupur Sharma made derogatory comments about Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. His remarks sparked protests around the world and several governments in the Muslim world vigorously protested and condemned the Indian government, some even demanding a public apology.

It was Zubair’s tweets that made Sharma’s remarks go viral, drawing worldwide attention and outrage. The outrage forced the Narendra Modi government to distance itself from Sharma’s comments and the BJP to suspend her.

Over the next month, Hindutva trolls targeted Zubair on Twitter and threatened him and his family. They drew attention to his earlier tweets, claimed they hurt their religious feelings and called for police action, including Hanuman Bhakt’s tweet.

Since AltNews was established in 2017, the website has done a remarkable job in combating fake news in India. “It is evident that AltNews’ vigilance has been felt by those who use disinformation as a tool to polarize society and inflame nationalist sentiments,” the Editors Guild of India (EGI) said in a statement after the arrest. of Zubair, a reference to the Hindu right. websites and trolls that target liberal Indians for their criticism of the Modi government and its appeasement of Hindutva radicals.

Zubair was among those trolled for leaking fake news and calling the God the media (pocket dog), those sections of the media that are the cheerleaders of the Modi government.

Since the BJP came to power in 2014, trolling, intimidation and police actions against journalists have increased dramatically. Journalists who criticize the Modi government are threatened with rape and murder. The police rarely provided them with protection. On the contrary, the police often work hand in hand with the ruling party and Hindutva activists to file complaints against journalists.

Among the victims of government persecution of journalists are Siddique Kappan and Farhad Shah. Kappan was on his way to Hathras in Uttar Pradesh to report on the gang rape and murder of a Dalit woman when he was arrested for a story he was never able to write. He remains in prison since late 2020, charged under the strict Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

As for Shah, a Kashmiri journalist and editor of Kashmirwalla, he was imprisoned under the Public Security Act, a preventive detention law under which a detainee can be held in prison for two years without no charges to be brought or trial, for allegedly “glorifying terrorism, spreading false news and inciting the general public to create L&O [law and order] situation. »

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Zubair is the latest victim of government attempts to silence critics.

Ironically, Zubair’s arrest coincided with Prime Minister Modi’s attendance at the G-7 summit in Germany, where leaders from the G-7 and five partner countries, including India, pledged to “protect the freedom of expression and opinion online and offline and to guarantee a free and independent media”.

“Do Union Home Ministry and Delhi Police disagree with Prime Minister on commitment to freedom of speech?” demanded the EGI, demanding Zubair’s immediate release.

About Jean R. Manzer

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