Who is Mohammed Zubair, journalist arrested for hurting religious sentiments?
The Delhi Police Monday arrested Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair after registering an FIR based on a complaint filed by a social media account. The account had tagged the Delhi Police on social media seeking action against Zubair for allegedly "hurting religious sentiments." Zubair was booked under IPC Sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups) and 295A (malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings).
Who is Mohammed Zubair?
Zubair, along with former software engineer Pratik Sinha, co-founded fact-checking platform Alt News in 2017 to curb fake news. Zubair is also a director at Pravda Media Foundation—the parent company of Alt News—and a manager at Alt News. Alt News has busted many misinformation campaigns on social media and mainstream media. Zubair has also been highlighting incidents of hate speech by various right-wing leaders.
Zubair's role in Nupur Sharma row
Zubair also highlighted comments made by the now-suspended BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma on the Prophet Mohammed earlier this month. Notably, Sharma's remarks led to a diplomatic row, with a number of Muslim countries, including Qatar, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia, condemning the ruling party at the Centre. Following this, the Centre was compelled to distance itself from Sharma's statements while the BJP had suspended her.
Another FIR lodged against Zubair in UP
Earlier in June, another FIR was registered against Zubair in Uttar Pradesh for allegedly hurting religious sentiments by terming Mahant Bajrang Muni "Udasin," Yati Narsinghanand, and Swami Anand Swarup "hatemongers" on Twitter. The FIR was based on a complaint from the Hindu Sher Sena's Sitapur unit chief Bhagwan Sharan. It said Zubair hurt "religious sentiments" by using "derogatory words" like "hatemongers" against "religious leaders."
Zubair intentionally tried to spread hatred: FIR
"He (Zubair) has intentionally tried to spread hatred in society and incite Muslims and hurt Hindu sentiments as part of a conspiracy," stated the FIR filed on the basis of Sharan's complaint. It further alleged that the journalist was "inciting Muslims to murder Hindu leaders."
Alt News co-founder Sinha calls it 'selective targeting'
Commenting on the FIR registered in UP, Alt News editor-in-chief Sinha termed it "selective targeting." Meanwhile, on allegations of Zubair inciting people and spreading hatred, Sinha said, "A cursory look at Zubair's timeline on social media will be enough to show that Zubair never promotes hate or a divisive agenda." "His work is journalistic in nature where he tweets on hate speech and misinformation."
Police earlier booked Zubair under POCSO Act
In 2020, the Delhi Police booked Zubair under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act on a complaint by National Commission for Protection of Child Rights chairperson Priyank Kanoongo. The case involved a tweet posted by Zubair on August 6, 2020, which contained the picture of a minor girl—with her face blurred out—during an online fight that he had with her father.
Police later said tweet doesn't constitute cognizable offense
In the POCSO case, the Delhi High Court in September 2020 restrained cops from taking coercive action against Zubair. The NCPCR even moved the HC in 2021, seeking the tweet's removal. In February 2022, the court sought a further status report on the investigation in the case. In May, however, the Delhi Police told the HC that Zubair's tweet doesn't "constitute any cognizable offense."