Chronicling the online campaign to jail Mohammed Zubair

Alt News cofounder’s arrest for a 2018 tweet referencing a film trope is the culmination of a sustained campaign against him.

ByPrateek Goyal
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Chronicling the online campaign to jail Mohammed Zubair
Shambhavi Thakur
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On June 27, Alt News cofounder Mohammed Zubair was arrested for allegedly hurting Hindu religious sentiments. The supposed reason: a satirical post from four years ago that a now-deleted Twitter account called Hanuman Bhakt apparently found offensive and flagged to the Delhi police on June 19.

Zubair’s post referenced a trope from the 1983 film Kissi Se Na Kehna.

It may have been Hanuman Bhakt’s complaint that purportedly landed the journalist in jail, but it was a sustained online campaign that paved the way. A prime node in which was a Twitter account called The Hawk Eye, described on a Razorpay page soliciting donations as “an attempt to spread awareness against industrialized disinformation campaigns raged by the communist cabal”.

Indeed, it was The Hawk Eye who first flagged Zubair’s 2018 satirical post, in a June 13 Twitter thread demanding police action against the journalist for making “fun of gods, religion, culture and scriptures”, and for triggering “violent mayhem”. Meaning the protests sparked by BJP’s now-suspended spokeswoman Nupur Sharma’s derogatory comments against Prophet Muhammad, which Zubair had brought attention to.

The Hawk Eye’s thread, which also cited supposedly offensive tweets by Zubair’s fellow Alt News cofounder Pratik Sinha, generated nearly 5,000 retweets and kicked off the campaign #ArrestMohammadZubair.

Starting in April, The Hawk Eye has posted several Twitter threads supposedly exposing Zubair, accusing him specifically and Alt News generally of committing financial crimes and publishing biased news.

On April 23, Zubair tweeted about a successful fundraising drive for the mostly Muslim families in Delhi and Madhya Pradesh whose homes had been bulldozed by police in the wake of communal violence, allegedly as an act of collective punishment.

The Hawk Eye responded with a thread alleging that while raising funds for the “resettlement of illegal encroachers, rioters and illegal migrants”,

Pravda Media Foundation, the nonprofit that runs Alt News, violated the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act.

The Hawk Eye wasn’t alone in going after Zubair. It was joined by prominent rightwing tweeters, including Shefali Vaidya, a columnist for Swarajya; pundit and TV talking head Abhijit Iyer Mitra; former Mail Today editor Abhijit Majumdar; and DD News consulting editor Ashok Shrivastav.

Arun Pudur, a self-described tech billionaire, even offered money for anyone willing to start legal action against Zubair and Alt News, which had debunked his false claims against Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav.

The Hawk Eye reposted the April 24 thread the day after Zubair’s arrest, tagging the Delhi police and asking for an investigation into the allegations.

A few days earlier, the anonymous account had boasted that its purported unmasking of Zubair’s “Hinduphobic posts” forced the journalist to delete some old tweets. Hindu supremacist websites such as OpIndia and News Bharati duly amplified this.

On Tuesday, the online rightwing ecosystem went at Zubair with renewed vengeance after two extremist Muslim men murdered a Hindu tailor in Rajasthan for supporting Nupur Sharma. Arun Pudur, Abhijit Iyer Mitra, Shefali Vaidya, BJP leaders Kapil Mishra and Priti Gandhi, social media influencers Rishi Bagree and Surendra Punia, Swarajya senior editor Tushar Gupta, Modi government advisor Kanchan Gupta, and Times Now editor Rahul Shivshankar sought to blame the gruesome murder on the Alt News journalist, who is in police custody.

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