Mohammed Zubair of Alt News arrested for 'disturbing religious harmony'

The journalist's arrest comes less than a week after the Indian government sought action against his Twitter account.

WrittenBy:NL Team
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The Delhi police on Monday arrested Mohammed Zubair for allegedly disturbing religious harmony. The arrest comes less than a week after Twitter received a request from the Narendra Modi government claiming that Alt News co-founder’s account violated Indian laws.

The police’s Special Cell called the journalist for investigation in a 2020 case, only to arrest him under new charges, said Pratik Sinha, the other co-founder of Alt News who was with him.

Zubair has protection from arrest in the 2020 case, filed under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act for alleged “online harassment and torture” of a minor girl on Twitter. His alleged crime: while responding to an abusive message on Twitter from one Jagdish Singh he had posted Singh’s profile picture that featured a young girl, but not without blurring her face. “Hello Jagdish Singh,” he posted. “Does your cute grand daughter know about your part time job of abusing people on social media? I suggest you to change your profile pic.”

Zubair went to the Delhi High Court after he was booked, and the court restrained the police from taking coercive action against him.

KPS Malhotra, deputy commissioner of the police’s Intelligence Fusion and Strategic Operations, tasked with tackling cyber crime, confirmed the journalist’s arrest to Newslaundry. “Zubair has been arrested in a case filed against him recently under IPC sections 153A and 295A,” he said. “It was for a tweet that was questionable on legal grounds. This case has serious implications as far as religious fabric is concerned.”

Section 153A punishes “promoting enmity” on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence and language, and doing acts prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony”, whereas Section 295A penalises “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings”.

“Secondly, there have been a few instances where a brigade of social media entities, including from across the border, started working after his tweets, some of which have been deleted. He has been arrested to investigate that matter as well. It’s too early to divulge details now,” Malhotra said, without elaborating.

Malhotra said the journalist would be presented before a magistrate later in the evening.

This is the second such case Zubair has been slapped with this month. On June 1, he was booked by the Uttar Pradesh police for describing Yati Narasinghanand Saraswati, Bajrang Muni and Anand Swaroop as “hatemongers”. The three Hindu supremacists are known for making hateful speeches against the Muslims and have been booked in hate speech cases.

Update: At around 10.30 pm, Zubair was produced in magistrate Ajay Narwal’s makeshift court in his garage at Burari.

Zubair’s lawyer Kawalpreet Kaur told Newslaundry that the police sought the journalist’s custody for seven days, claiming he was not cooperating with the investigation. Zubair’s counsel countered that there was no reason for the police to hold him and that he had been cooperating with the investigation.

After hearing these arguments, the magistrate gave the police Zubair’s custody for a day. He will be produced before the court again after this custody expires later today.

Zubair’s lawyers had also filed an application for immediate bail, but it was denied.

The FIR which led to Zubair’s arrest was registered a week ago, on June 20, on the basis of a complaint by a sub inspector named Arun Kumar. The sub inspector claimed that he was acting as the emergency duty officer of the police’s social media monitoring cell when he came across a tweet by one anonymous handle called Hanuman Bhakt.

“These words and the picture found to be used by Mohammed Zubair against a particular religious community are highly provocative and more than sufficient to incite feelings of hatred amongst people which can be detrimental for maintenance of public tranquillity in the society,” the FIR states. “Transmission and publication of such posts has been deliberately done by Mohammed Zubair through electronic media to insult the religious feelings of a particular community with intent to provoke breach of peace which attracts offence under Section 153A and 295.”

This is a developing story. More details are awaited.


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