A Delhi court today sent journalist Mohammed Zubair to four more days of police custody in a case over a tweet from 2018 that allegedly hurt religious sentiments. While Mr Zubair's lawyer argued that he is being targeted for his "name, faith and profession", the court gave the police custody to take him to Bengaluru to recover his laptop from his home.
Mr Zubair's legal team will challenge the order of the chief metropolitan magistrate in a sessions court tomorrow, sources told NDTV.
A co-founder of the fact-checking website Alt News, Mr Zubair was arrested yesterday and sent to a day's police remand. The police today sought five more days.
During the hearing, Mr Zubair's lawyer said the case is "absurd" as his tweet of March 2018 is merely an image from a 1983 movie cleared by the censor board. "Many have tweeted the same, the only difference between those handles and mine is my faith, my name and my profession," she said.
The image in his tweet is from Hrishikesh Mukherjee's 'Kissi Se Na Kehna'. It shows a signboard that reads 'Hanuman Hotel' in Hindi, but paint marks suggest it was earlier called 'Honeymoon Hotel'. Mr Zubair wrote with the screenshot, "Before 2014: Honeymoon Hotel, After 2014: Hanuman Hotel", in an apparent dig at the BJP coming to power in 2014.
His lawyer, Vrinda Grover, contested the police's claim that he edited the image. "It's a joke on honeymooners... My client is being targeted for his work. He may be challenging people who are powerful but that can't be a reason for his harassment." She also argued that his laptop has nothing to do with the case.
Rejecting the assertions made by Mr Zubair's legal team, the court order said the argument that the photograph is from a movie is "of no assistance to the accused at this stage".
Delhi Police told the court that Mr Zubair is a fact-checker "only for popularity". Alleging a "continuing offence", the police referred to another tweet, in which he had written, "Pray to Hanuman, monkeys will not disturb you." His lawyer said he was merely reiterating a statement by a chief minister (Yogi Adityanath of Uttar Pradesh).
Mr Zubair's arrest came just days after he flagged a video of since-suspended BJP leader Nupur Sharma's remarks against Prophet Mohammed on a TV show. He had been called for questioning in a 2020 case, in which the Delhi High Court had already granted him protection against arrest. But he was arrested in this case, based on a complaint by a police officer. The officer's complaint said he noticed a post by the Twitter handle '@balajikijaiin' earlier this month objecting to Mr Zubair's 2018 tweet.
Founded in 2017 as a non-profit, Alt News is among the world's most prominent fact-checking outlets. Its founders — Pratik Sinha and Mohammed Zubair — have been facing online trolling and police cases, particularly by right-wing groups, for years. In a tweet this afternoon, Mr Sinha said, "We at Alt News will continue to fight misinformation, disinformation and hate speech, and keep holding people and organisations accountable, and nothing can stop that."