Zubair was arrested by Delhi police on Monday and remanded in custody over a 2018 tweet
On Monday, Delhi police arrested Mohammed Zubair, the 38-year-old co-founder of fact-checking website Alt News, on charges of offending religious sentiments with a tweet posted in 2018. A district court remanded Zubair in a night hearing to a day in police custody.
Who is Mohammed Zubair?
Zubair, a former engineer, co-founded the popular fact-checking website AltNews, which he co-founded with Pratik Sinha in 2017 to fight fake news and bring the true story behind a viral image, photo or campaign to the public.
In fact, it was Zubair who tweeted the video clip of a televised debate in which former BJP spokesman Nupur Sharma made derogatory remarks against the Prophet Muhammad. The comment, which sparked massive outrage among Muslims, was condemned by over a dozen Islamic countries including Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, forcing the Narendra Modi government to sack Sharma.
Fight against fake news
Alt News is based in Ahmedabad and has 12 full-time employees and more than 1.3 million followers.
In an interview with Rest of the World, Zubair said that in addition to misinformation about movie stars, COVID and home remedies, a large portion of the fake news is about related religious minorities, mostly Muslims.
Also read: Alt News journalist Mohammad Zubair was arrested in Delhi
He cited how a series of certain photos from Egypt can be misrepresented as Ramzan gatherings in India amid the COVID-19 pandemic, just to defame the community.
A look at his Twitter account provides insight into the journalist’s attempts to spread fake news and misleading videos and photos that threaten to target minorities.
He is among many journalists in India targeted for anti-majority politics and hating politics, and constantly under the government and law enforcement radar.
“The fear that one of us might be arrested is always there… But beyond that, the problem is how much time and energy is being put into legal cases,” AltNews founder Pratik Sinha told Article14 earlier this month, recounting the troubles of job .
Why was Zubair arrested?
Zubair was arrested for a tweet he made in 2018.
Zubair had tweeted a clip from Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s 1983 film Kissi Se Na Kehna. In the photo, a plaque reads “Hanuman Hotel” in Hindi, while traces of paint indicate that it used to be called “Honeymoon” and was later changed.
“Before 2014: Honeymoon Hotel, after 2014: Hanuman Hotel,” Zubair tweeted.
In their FIR, Delhi Police said the tweet was “highly proactive and more than sufficient to incite hatred.”
The FIR was filed following a complaint from a Delhi Police Sub-Inspector.
However, Zubair was summoned to Delhi for questioning in a 2020 case in which the court had granted him protection from arrest and was arrested for the above case.
Five cases in three states
Zubair has filed at least five lawsuits against him over a 21-month period in five cities in three states.
Earlier this month, a case was launched against Zubair for allegedly hurting religious sentiments by tweeting a tweet calling Mahant Bajrang Muni “Udasin”, Yati Narsinghanand and Swami Anand Swarup “hatemongers”. Bhagwan Sharan, the Sitapur unit chief of the Hindu Sher Sena who filed the FIR, had claimed that through his tweet Zubair was trying to “incite Muslims and hurt Hindu feelings as part of a conspiracy”. He also claimed that Zubair incited Muslims to assassinate Hindu leaders.
It should be noted that Yati Narsinghanand, the Chief Priest of UP’s Dasna Temple in Ghaziabad, is one of the accused in the case of hate speech in Haridwar Dharm Sansad.
In 2020, under sections of IT Law and POCSO, Zubair was charged by Delhi Police and Raipur Police Cyber Cell in Chhattisgarh for posting the photo of an underage girl with a blurred face together with her father. Zubair was involved in a Twitter spat with the father.
While Zubair was granted bail by courts in Delhi and Raipur, during a May 2022 hearing of the case, Delhi Police told the Delhi High Court that the tweet “constitutes no recognizable criminal offence.”
Also read: Fake News on Social Media: A Menace with a Mission
In another FIR, Zubair was booked for tweeting a video clip in which a senior appears to be attacked in the UP district of Ghaziabad. Police said the accused – including journalists like Rana Ayub and Saba Naqvi – tweeted the clip along with comments suggesting the attack was the result of communal violence, while the real reason was a personal dispute.
“Hindutva Brigade Punching Bag”
In an interview with Article 14, Zubair said he is attacked by right-wing elements on social media whenever he calls out their bluffs or hate speech.
Even in the tweet accompanying Nupur Sharma’s remarks, Zubair said he didn’t mention her name, but tagged Times Now editor Navika Kumar and Bennet and Coleman Co Ltd chief executive Vineet Jain, asking why TV news anchors stopped airing hate speech allow.
While Times Now later deleted the video, Zubair was accused of manipulating it and orchestrating the hate campaign and public outrage against Nupur Sharma.
“They said if anything happened to her, I would be the only one responsible. OpIndia wrote several articles accusing me,” he told Article14. “Several people from the BJP, verified handles, Kanchan Gupta (a government adviser) and many others started blaming me.”
Recently, Yati Narsinghanand called Zubair a “jihad” and accused him of causing trouble for Nupur Sharma and framed him for the case against Jitendra Tyagi, a co-defendant in the Haridwar hate speech incident.
“One more thing. Documenting hate speech and hate crime is not a crime,” Zubair tweeted on June 10, sharing a letter via Twitter informing him that he had accepted the Mumbai police’s request to freeze his account. had declined.