Fact-checker Mohammed Zubair's lawyer today told a Delhi court that he's been arrested for a 2018 tweet even when it is a screenshot 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," lawyer Vrinda Grover said.
In the March 2018 tweet, Mr Zubair, one of the founders of fact-checking website Alt News, had shared an image from Hrishikesh Mukherjee's classic 'Kissi Se Na Kehna'. It shows a hotel signboard that reads 'Hanuman Hotel' in Hindi, but paint marks suggest it was earlier called 'Honeymoon Hotel'. Mr Zubair wrote with the image, "Before 2014: Honeymoon Hotel, After 2014: Hanuman Hotel", in what appeared to be a dig at the BJP coming to power in 2014.
Mr Zubair's lawyer rubbished the police's claim that he had edited the image, and said there was no basis to charges of hurting religious sentiments or promoting enmity. "This is not a place of worship. It is joke on honeymooners... The entire case borders on absurdity."
Arguing for bail, she said the police are abusing their power. "What has happened between 2018-2022 because of this tweet?... 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 told the court.
Delhi Police, however, said he is a fact-checker "only for popularity".
It sought five days of custody, citing other FIRs registered against him. "This is a continuing offence," the police's lawyer argued, referring to a tweet in which Mr Zubair had written, "Pray to Hanuman, monkeys will not disturb you." But his lawyer said Mr Zubair was merely reiterating a statement by a chief minister (Yogi Adityanath of Uttar Pradesh).
Mr Zubair was arrested by the Delhi Police last evening, days after he flagged a video of since-suspended BJP leader Nupur Sharma's provocative remarks against Prophet Mohammed on a TV show. A duty magistrate gave the police a day's custody last night.
His lawyer underlined that he was originally 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 have been facing online trolling and police cases, particularly by right-wing groups, for years.