Arrest of Indian Muslim journalist sparks widespread outrage

NEW DELHI – Police in India’s capital New Delhi arrested a Muslim journalist on Monday night for allegedly hurting religious feelings in what many have criticized as the latest example of curtailing press freedom under Prime Minister Narendra’s government Modi.

Mohammed Zubair, one of the co-founders of fact-checking website Alt News, was arrested over a tweet that police said deliberately insulted “the god of a particular religion”. KPS Senior Police Officer Malhotra said the case was filed following a complaint from a Twitter user and Zubair was taken into custody for a day.

Journalists across India have been increasingly targeted for their work in recent years. Some have been arrested on heavy criminal charges for social media posts, where they regularly face threats and trolling. The Twitter accounts of some journalists and news sites have also been suspended by government order.

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The incident immediately sparked outrage, with activists, journalists and opposition politicians taking to social media to denounce it as press harassment while calling for the immediate release of Zubair.

“In a democracy, where every individual has the right to exercise freedom of speech and expression, it is unjustifiable that such strict laws are used as tools against journalists,” said DIGIPUB, a network of Indian organizations of digital press, in a press release. .

“Stopping one voice of truth will only stir up a thousand more,” Congress Opposition Leader Rahul Gandhi wrote on Twitter.

Pratik Sinha, the other co-founder of Alt News, said Zubair was arrested without police notice, which is mandatory under the law for the sections under which he was detained.

Founded in 2017 as a non-profit organization, Alt News is India’s leading fact-checking news website and has earned a reputation for reporting on hate speech and debunking hate speech. disinformation, especially by Hindu nationalists. Its founders often face online trolling and threats from right-wing groups, some of which are linked to Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party.

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Several similar cases have been filed against Zubair in the past. Earlier this month, police charged him with calling some Hindu monks “hate smokers”, The Wire news site reported. Hindu monks had made inflammatory statements against Muslims and at least one had called for “genocide” of the minority community. The monks were arrested and then released on bail.

Zubair was also among the first journalists to highlight the now-suspended BJP spokesperson’s controversial comments on the Prophet Muhammad, which created a diplomatic row for the Modi administration. The Indian government distanced itself from the spokesperson’s comments after it provoked a massive backlash from many Muslim countries.

India’s ranking dropped eight places to 150 out of 180 countries in this year’s press freedom index published by monitoring group Reporters Without Borders.

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“Indian journalists who are overly critical of the government are subjected to campaigns of harassment and all-out attacks,” he noted in his 2022 edition, adding that journalists were regularly exposed to police violence and increasing reprisals from officials.

Zubair’s arrest comes two days after the arrest of lawyer and human rights activist Teesta Setalvad by the anti-terrorism branch of the Gujarat state police.

Setalvad was arrested on Saturday for allegedly “forging and fabricating evidence” in a case relating to the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat state. Modi, who was Gujarat’s chief minister at the time, denied the charges against him and was cleared of complicity after government investigators and the courts ruled there was no evidence against Modi.

Setalvad has long campaigned for justice for the victims of the riots in which nearly 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed. His arrest was condemned by global rights groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

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Associated Press writer Krutika Pathi contributed to this report.

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