The Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ) is deeply concerned at the arrest of Alt News journalist M. Zubair, without due notice, by the Delhi Police. Zubair was called to Delhi from Ahmedabad, ostensibly for questioning in an earlier case in which the Supreme Court had granted him protection from arrest. However, he was arrested in a fresh case without giving him an opportunity to seek court protection and anticipatory bail.
Zubair is a co-founder of the popular fact-checking website AltNews which came up in response to the sudden proliferation of fake news online. AltNews is considered the gold standard in fact checking.
Tweeting under the handle @zoo_bear he has 572.7 thousand followers. His popularity has unfortunately made him a target. A complaint for a 2018 tweet is the ostensible reason for his arrest. He has been booked under Section 295 A (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs) and S.153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony).
AltNews co-founder Prateek Sinha has said that despite repeated requests the copy of the FIR was not furnished to Zubair at the time of arrest. This flouting of legal procedures is a cause for worry, given similar issues with the arrest of journalist and human rights defender Teesta Setalvad just days ago.
Zubair has been in the middle of controversy recently for highlighting BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma’s adverse comments about the Prophet Mohammad on a TV show. Sharma has been removed from the spokespersonship and has gone underground, evading arrest. Zubair has been arrested, apparently for a four-year-old tweet.
It is ironical that the Prime Minister has just signed the 2022 Resilient Democracies Statement along with heads of G7 and other countries meeting in Germany. The Statement pledges that these countries are committed to “guarding the freedom, independence and diversity of civil society actors” and “protecting the freedom of expression and opinion online and offline”.
The Supreme Court and other courts too have repeatedly said that there should be no arrests for tweets or facebook and other social media posts. However, the list of those arrested for such posts is growing by the day. This is a serious cause for concern, particularly for journalists but equally for civil society.
We call for the immediate release of both Zubair and Teesta Setalvad and call up on members to be ready for protests at short notice.