Mohammed Zubair arrested: A cyber unit of Delhi Police on Monday arrested Mohammed Zubair, the co-founder of fact-checking website AltNews, on charges of allegedly hurting religious sentiments following a complaint by a social media user who referred to a tweet from 2018.
The police said they filed an FIR against Zubair in connection with the complaint under IPC sections 153-A (promoting enmity between different groups) and 295-A (malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings). They said he has been remanded in police custody for a day and will be produced in court for bail hearing after Tuesday.
Police sources said the complainant in the case goes by the Twitter name Hanuman Bhakt, with an image of Lord Hanuman as his profile photo. On Monday night, the handle had over 400 followers.
Earlier this month, Zubair had highlighted comments made by the then BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma on the Prophet, which triggered condemnation from a host of countries, including those from the Gulf. The outrage prompted the Centre to distance itself from Sharma’s comments, and the ruling BJP to suspend her and sack another party spokesperson Naveen Kumar Jindal.
Zubair’s arrest was slammed by the Opposition, including Congress, TMC, RJD, AIMIM and the Left parties, which accused the BJP-led NDA government of cracking down on those who “expose its hate speech and fake propaganda”.
Please note. pic.twitter.com/gMmassggbx
— Pratik Sinha (@free_thinker) June 27, 2022
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted that “arresting one voice of truth will only give rise to a thousand more”. Several other Opposition leaders expressed “shock” at the arrest, described it as a “violation of due process”, and demanded that Zubair be “released immediately”.
Zubair was arrested by Delhi Police’s IFSO (Intelligence Fusion & Strategic Operations) unit, which comes under the Special Cell and handles cases of cyber crime and cyber forensics.
DCP (IFSO) K P S Malhotra said: “Delhi Police has registered a case after getting a complaint from a Twitter handle, wherein it was alleged that Mohammed Zubair had tweeted a questionable image with a purpose to deliberately insult the god of a particular religion. Such tweets were getting retweeted and it appeared that there is a brigade of social media entities, who indulge in insult mongering thereby leading to a possible ramification on communal harmony and is overall against the maintenance of public tranquility.”
A senior police officer said the tweet purportedly showed an image of a hotel, with its board reading ‘Honeymoon hotel’ repainted to ‘Hanuman hotel’. The complainant posted a screenshot, tagged Delhi Police, and wrote: “Linking our God Hanuman ji with honeymoon is a direct insult of Hindus because he is brahmchari. Kindly take action against this guy @delhipolice.”
“We came across the tweet last week. Zubair had posted this tweet in 2018 but people have been raising the issue recently. We took action and registered an FIR,” the officer said.
Soon after the arrest, Alt-News co-founder Prateek Sinha tweeted: “Zubair was called today by Special cell, Delhi, for investigation in a 2020 case for which he already had protection against arrest from the High Court. However, today at around 6.45 pm, we were told he has been arrested in some other FIR for which no notice was given which is mandatory under law for the Sections under which he has been arrested. Nor FIR copy is being given to us despite repeated requests.”
The case Sinha was referring to dates back to September 2020, when police had booked Zubair under the POCSO Act after he responded to an abusive message from a Twitter user. The Delhi High Court had, however, restrained the police from taking coercive action against him in connection with that case.
Police sources said Bengaluru-based Zubair and his advocates reached IFSO’s office in Dwarka around 2 pm. “Police started questioning him, and around 3.15 pm, another investigation officer served him a notice under section 41 CrPC (in the present case) and asked him to join the investigation. At around 5.30 pm, he was arrested,” said a source.
In another tweet, Sinha wrote: “After the medical examination, Zubair is being taken to an undisclosed location. Neither Zubair’s lawyers or I are being told where. We are in the police van with him. No police person is wearing any name tag.”
DCP Malhotra said in a statement: “In the month of June 2022, when Delhi Police was alerted by a Twitter handle that Mohammad Zubair had earlier made an objectionable tweet and his followers/ social media entities had amplified and created a series of debates/ hate mongering in the tread, he was examined in this case and his role was found objectionable. He was evasive on the questions and neither provided the necessary technical equipment for the purpose of the investigation nor cooperated in the investigation.”
“During investigation, the conduct of Mohammed Zubair was found questionable, which warranted his custodial interrogation to unravel the conspiracy in this matter,” he stated.
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The police move was also slammed by DIGIPUB, an organisation of digital news media organisations, which released a statement “strongly condemning the arrest”.
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