Oppn, media bodies condemn Zubair's arrest; BJP points to 'chequered past'
New Delhi, Jun 28: The Opposition and media bodies on Tuesday condemned the arrest of Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair and demanded his immediate release, even as the BJP said he had a "chequered past" and posted tweets which hurt religious feelings of a large section of the Hindu society.
A group of activists also said it was "absolute hypocrisy" of the government that his arrest came on a day India committed at the G7 Summit to defend democratic principles and protect the freedom of expression. The fact-checking website's co-founder was arrested by the Special Cell of the Delhi Police on Monday on charges of promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion and deliberate acts to outrage religious feeling of the Indian Penal Code.
A Delhi court on Tuesday extended by four days the custodial interrogation of Zubair in a case related to an "objectionable tweet" he had posted in 2018 against a Hindu deity. The Editors Guild of India and the Press Club of India described the arrest of Zubair on charges of hurting religious sentiments as "extremely disturbing" and demanded his immediate release.
Both the media bodies pointed out that the action against Zubair came on a day when India joined G7 and four other countries to protect free speech, "online and offline". The Mumbai Press Club also condemned the arrest of Zubair. Criticising the arrests, All India Progressive Women's Association member Kavita Krishnan alleged it was "absolute hypocrisy" of the prime minister to "use the Constitution of India as window dressing" while he is acting in revenge against activists and journalists who is holding his party accountable.
Aakar Patel, chair of board for Amnesty International India, said the Indian authorities are targeting Zubair for his crucial work to combat the rise in fake news and disinformation and call out the discrimination against minorities. To questions about Zubair's arrest and opposition leaders' protest against it, BJP spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia said one cannot become a fact-checker only by proclaiming himself to be one.
He has a chequered past and has posted tweets which have hurt religious feelings of a large section of Hindu society, Bhatia said. Criticising Zubair, Bhatia said if somebody is doing fact-check, then he cannot be selective. If he posts content which suits some political party or a community, then he is not objective, Bhatia claimed. The Opposition condemned Zubair's arrest and hit out at the ruling BJP for it. The Congress said the "coward" government is sending out a message to those who expose its "fake news".
Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate said without getting into the legalities, the big message by the BJP-led Centre is that the perpetrators of hate speeches would get political patronage and will be out either on bail or otherwise, and people who report that will be behind bars. She said those spreading hate are becoming leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), while those speaking out against their hate are being put behind bars.
Left parties also hit out at the government over Zubair's arrest, asking it how those who spread hate are free, and someone who exposes them is behind bars. The parties demanded his immediate release. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee also lashed out at the Centre over the arrests of Zubair and social activist Teesta Setalvad for "trying to expose the truth" and wondered how those who spread hatred among communities are roaming free.
Prominent Muslim organisation Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind on Tuesday termed as "discriminatory" the arrest of the Alt News co-founder and demanded that the government take "fair action" in the matter respecting the country's reputation at the international level. Jamiat president Maulana Mahmood Madani also wrote to Union Home Minister Amit Shah, saying "the discriminatory nature" of the functioning of law enforcement agencies is condemnable. Zubair was produced before court on the expiry of his one-day custodial interrogation.
The police told the court that the accused did not cooperate with the investigating agency and that custodial interrogation was required to gather information regarding the device from which the tweet was made by the accused. PTI