Calling it "extremely disturbing", the Editors Guild of India today condemned the "brazen" arrest of fact-checker Mohammed Zubair and demanded his immediate release. Pointing to commitments made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the G7 meeting in Germany to ensure a resilient democracy by protecting online and offline content, it said his release would support India's position.
The G7 joint statement released yesterday said that the countries are committed to open public debate, independent and pluralistic media and the free flow of information online and offline, fostering legitimacy, transparency, responsibility and accountability for citizens and elected representatives alike.
Mr Zubair was arrested for a 2018 tweet that was "highly provocative and more than sufficient to incite feelings of hatred" among people, a Delhi Police First Information Report (FIR) had said. The Special Cell of the Delhi Police arrested him on Monday on charges of promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion and deliberate acts to outrage religious feelings.
In the tweet, Mohammed Zubair, the co-founder of fact-check site Alt News, shared a clip from legendary filmmaker Hrishikesh Mukherjee's 1983 classic Kissi Se Na Kehna.
Several individuals, including Trinamool MP Mahua Moitra, have drawn a parallel with suspended BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma whose remarks on Prophet Muhammad had provoked protests and condemnation from several Gulf countries. Both Mr Zubair and Ms Sharma have been charged with the same offences (sections 153 and 295 of the Indian Penal Code) but Ms Sharma remains free while the fact-checker was swiftly arrested, they have pointed out.
In fact, it was Mohammed Zubair who first highlighted Ms Sharma's offensive comments during a news debate.
"This is extremely disturbing because Zubair and his website AltNews have done some exemplary work over the past few years in identifying fake news and countering disinformation campaigns, in a very objective and factual manner. In fact, it was an exposure of toxic remarks of a ruling party spokesperson on a TV channel that allowed the party to make amends," the guild's statement said.
The Editors Guild of India condemns the arrest of Muhammad Zubair, co-founder of the fact checking site AltNews, by the Delhi Police on June 27, for a tweet from 2018. EGI demands that the Delhi Police should immediately release Muhammad Zubair. pic.twitter.com/q9uYqFxaPA— Editors Guild of India (@IndEditorsGuild) June 28, 2022
Slamming "those who use disinformation as a tool to polarise the society and rake nationalist sentiments", the Editors Guild of India further stated that AltNews' "alert vigilance" was resented by them.
Earlier, a body of digital news media organisations had condemned Mr Zubair's arrest and asked the Delhi Police to withdraw the case against him immediately.
"In a democracy, where every individual possesses the right to exercise the freedom of speech and expression, it is unjustifiable that such stringent laws are being used as tools against journalists, who have been accorded the role of playing watchdog against the misuse of institutions of the state," a DIGIPUB statement said.
"DIGIPUB urges the Delhi Police to withdraw the case immediately. The use of such stringent laws being used as tools against journalists who are considered the fourth pillar of democracy must be stopped. We stand with Zubair," the statement said.