The Delhi Police on Monday arrested AltNews co-founder Mohammed Zubair, days after registering an FIR based on a complaint by a man, who had been tagging the Delhi Police on social media alleging that Zubair hurt his religious sentiments and legal action should be taken against him.
An FIR under IPC Section 153-A (promoting enmity between different groups) and 295-A (malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings) was registered against him earlier this month.
Who is Mohammed Zubair?
Mohammad Zubair is the co-founder of fact-checking website AltNews, which he founded along with former software engineer Pratik Sinha. Zubair and Sinha founded the AltNews website in 2017 to combat fake news.
It was after Zubair highlighted comments made by suspended BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma on the Prophet earlier this month that the central government had found itself in a diplomatic row, with condemnation coming in from a host of countries, including Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. The Centre was forced to distance itself from Sharma’s comments while the party had suspended her.
Earlier this month, an FIR was lodged in Uttar Pradesh against Zubair for allegedly hurting religious sentiments by calling Mahant Bajrang Muni ‘Udasin’, Yati Narsinghanand and Swami Anand Swarup “hatemongers” on Twitter.
The FIR was lodged on a complaint from Bhagwan Sharan, who is the Sitapur unit chief of the Hindu Sher Sena. “This complaint is with regard to hurting our religious sentiments by using derogatory words against mahants of our dharam sthal, which is a symbol of our faith. On May 27, I saw on Twitter that Mohammad Zubair had used derogatory words like ‘hatemongers’ against Rashtriya Hindu Sher Sena national custodian Bajrang Muni. Zubair had also disrespected Hindu Yati Narsinghanand and Swami Anand Swarup,” read the FIR.
“He (Zubair) has intentionally tried to spread hatred in society and incite Muslims and hurt Hindu sentiments as part of a conspiracy. There is anger among us Hindus by such acts of his,” it added. The complaint also alleged that Zubair was “inciting Muslims to murder Hindu leaders”.
While Zubair did not wish to comment on that FIR, Alt News editor-in-chief Pratik Sinha said it was a clear example of “selective targeting”. Regarding allegations that Zubair is 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.”
In August 2020, Delhi Police had booked Zubair in a POCSO case on the basis of a complaint filed by National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) chairperson Priyank Kanoongo. The NCPCR complaint had referred to a tweet shared by Zubair on August 6, 2020, which had the photo of a minor girl, with her face blurred out, during an online spat he was having with her father.
However, the Delhi High Court in September that year restrained the police from taking coercive action against Zubair in the case.
Following Twitter’s refusal to take down Zubair’s post, the NCPCR last year had approached the High Court seeking removal of the tweet, while alleging that it was in violation of various laws. In the affidavit before the court, the NCPCR also said that police has informed it that a Kalandra under Section 175 IPC was filed before the Patiala House Court on February 17, 2021, against Twitter for not providing the information sought despite repeated reminders.
In February this year, the Delhi HC asked the Police to file a further status report on the investigation carried out so far. During a hearing in May, the Delhi Police told the high court that the tweet made by Zubair “does not constitute any cognizable offence”.