Published: 28th June 2022
#WhatTheFAQ: Who is AltNews Co-founder, fact-checker Mohammad Zubair and why was he arrested?
Journalist Mohammad Zubair was arrested by the Delhi police yesterday. But why is it significant and why is everyone talking about it? We tell you
In an era where it is hard to distinguish between what's fake news and what's not, there have emerged fact-checkers who do it for us. One such fact-checker is Mohammad Zubair, Co-founder of AltNews, a non-profit fact-checking website. Zubair was arrested by the Delhi Police on Monday, June 27.
From everywhere, tweets are pouring in about Zubair and his arrest. While sections of people have criticised the arrest, Delhi Police have maintained that his tweets were offensive. Interestingly, the post over which he was arrested is a clip of 1983 Hindi comedy film Kissi Se Na Kehna by the legendary director Hrishikesh Mukherjee. Yes, it’s complicated. But let’s get down to looking at what this soup is made up of, step by step.
Who is Mohammad Zubair?
He is the co-founder of AltNews, which is a fact-checking website founded in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, on February 9, 2017, for the purpose of combating fake news. Zubair along with software engineer Pratik Sinha brought out AltNews and until April 2020 the platform was a signatory partner of the International Fact-Checking Network. Zubair is a journalist who is known to speak out openly on controversial matters. He describes himself as a “Fact-Checker, analysing misinfo/disinfo across India” on per his Twitter bio, and goes by the name @zoo_bear on the social media platform.
Why was he arrested?
He was arrested for his 2018 Twitter post, which showed a picture of a hotel taken from a Hindi movie. The hotel signboard read “Hanuman Hotel” but the paint on it shows that it was evidently called “Honeymoon Hotel” earlier. Zubair had captioned this picture with “Before 2014: Honeymoon Hotel After 2014: Hanuman Hotel. #SanskaariHotel”. The FIR was lodged by Delhi Police Sub-Inspector Arun Kumar on the basis of a complaint. The policeman said that he was monitoring social media when he came across a tweet from a handle named Hanuman Bhakt, objecting to Zubair's tweet.
"Transmission and publication of such posts has been deliberately done by Mohammed Zubair@zoo_bear through electronic media to insult the religious feelings of a particular community with the intent to provoke breach of peace," the FIR against him states.
“Today, during the course of investigation of a case registered at PS-Special Cell u/s 153A/295A IPC, alleged Mohammed Zubair was joined in the investigation of the case and after having sufficient evidence on record, he was arrested in the present case,” said DCP Special Cell KPS Malhotra. IPC Section 153 refers to giving provocation with intent to cause a riot and Section 295 refers to deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs. The police has also alleged that Zubair’s conduct during the investigation was found “questionable”, warranting his custodial interrogation to “unravel the conspiracy in this matter”.
What is AltNews saying?
Co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of AltNews, Pratik Sinha has stated that Zubair's arrest was an example of “selective targeting”. Commenting on the allegations that Zubair was responsible for inciting provocation and hatred, he 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”. He has also informed that Zubair was arrested without any notice, and stated, "No FIR copy is being given to us despite repeated requests."
What are other people saying?
Zubair’s arrest has been condemned by many, especially the Opposition, which has given it the shape of a political issue. Congress Leader Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) tweeted, “Every person exposing BJP's hate, bigotry and lies is a threat to them. Arresting one voice of truth will only give rise to a thousand more. Truth ALWAYS triumphs over tyranny. #DaroMat”, while Congress MP Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) tweeted, “India’s few fact-checking services, especially @AltNews, perform a vital service in our post-truth political environment, rife with disinformation. They debunk falsehoods whoever perpetrates them. To arrest @zoo_bear is an assault on truth. He should be released immediately.”
Trinamool MP Mahua Moitra (@MahuaMoitra) tweeted, “Delhi Police bending over backwards to please sahibs & thumb nose at law. @zoo_bear arrested on trumped up case w/o notice while assisting in case where HC given him protection. While Ms. Fringe Sharma enjoys life of protection at tax payer expense for EXACT same offences.”
This is not all. Trinamool Congress’ Derek O’Brien and K Chandrashekhar Rao's Telangana Rashtra Samithi’s (TRS), Y Satish Reddy have also extended their support to Zubair, along with many other politicians, journalists, general users and activists. Zubair's arrest comes a day after journalist Rana Ayyub's Twitter handle was withheld by the platform itself in India, creating a controversy.
What are the other cases lodged against Zubair?
Zubair had earlier this month highlighted the comments of BJP MLA Nupur Sharma on the Prophet. Then, in June, 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 in May.
Before that, in August 2020, Delhi Police had booked Zubair in a POCSO case on the basis of a complaint filed by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR). The current case for which he was being questioned by the Delhi Special Cell also dates back to 2020, accusing Zubair of objectionable comments, and provoking people. In the year 2018, not only the tweet for which he has been arrested but Zubair was found to have made a series of objectionable tweets.