New Delhi, India – Police in India’s capital New Delhi have arrested a Muslim journalist for allegedly hurting spiritual sentiment in what critics say is the newest instance of declining press freedom within the nation underneath Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s authorities.

Mohammed Zubair, co-founder of India’s main fact-checking web site Alt Information, has lengthy been within the crosshairs of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Get together (BJP) for his organisation’s relentless debunking of faux information and false claims largely pushed by India’s Hindu supremacist teams.

This month, Modi’s authorities confronted one in every of its worst diplomatic crises in recent times after two BJP officers made derogatory remarks in opposition to the Prophet Muhammad and his spouse Aisha.

Greater than a dozen Muslim nations, together with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members with whom New Delhi has sturdy ties, condemned the remarks and demanded an apology, forcing the BJP to challenge a uncommon assertion saying it “respects all religions”.

Zubair, who has greater than half 1,000,000 Twitter followers, was most likely the primary journalist to share a clip of the TV debate on a information channel wherein the now-suspended BJP spokeswoman Nupur Sharma made the feedback in opposition to the prophet.

Whereas he didn’t identify Sharma or tag her deal with in his tweet, he questioned the information channel, its anchor and the community’s proprietor for permitting the incendiary remarks.

“I used to be extra indignant [with] the information anchor as a result of they gave platform to her. After she uttered these phrases, they didn’t even cease her. I felt very unhealthy, which is why once I tweeted, I didn’t point out Nupur Sharma’s identify or her Twitter deal with however was livid with the anchor and the information channel,” Zubair instructed Al Jazeera throughout a telephonic interview final week.

“I wished to name them out. I used to be really focusing on the information channel.”

Because the controversy snowballed into a significant diplomatic disaster, many BJP supporters demanded Zubair’s arrest by working the hashtag #ArrestZubair on Twitter.

Earlier this month, police charged the 39-year-old journalist for calling some far-right Hindu monks “hatemongers”. The monks had made inflammatory statements about Muslims and not less than one in every of them had referred to as for a “genocide” of the minority neighborhood.

Zubair’s arrest on Monday additionally got here 5 days after Twitter obtained a request from the Modi authorities, claiming his account had violated Indian legal guidelines.

Hailing from Bengaluru metropolis within the southern state of Karnataka, Zubair labored as a software program engineer with telecom big Nokia for greater than 10 years.

In 2017, he and Pratik Sinha, one other software program engineer from Ahmedabad in Modi’s residence state of Gujarat, co-founded Alt Information.

For not less than a 12 months, Zubair solely assisted Sinha in working the positioning whereas persevering with to work for Nokia. However in September 2018, he stop and joined Alt Information as a full-time worker.

One among their first successes was after they busted a false declare made in a report by India’s federal residence ministry displaying floodlights alongside the tense Indian-Pakistan border.

The image used within the report was from the Spain-Morocco border taken in 2006 by a Spanish photographer. The ministry was compelled to challenge a clarification.

The duo then went on to reveal quite a few false claims and faux information, typically shared by BJP members or their supporters, for which they’ve confronted incessant on-line trolling and even police circumstances within the final 5 years.

Alt News India journalist
{A photograph} of a pc display exhibits the house web page of Alt Information [Manish Swarup/AP]

Exposing anti-Muslim narratives

The prophet dispute was not the primary time Zubair had referred to as out the growing hate speech in opposition to India’s Muslim minority and Islam.

Earlier this 12 months, he posted a number of movies of a controversial spiritual occasion organised by far-right Hindu monks within the northern metropolis of Haridwar, the place calls have been made to Hindus to take up arms for a genocide of Muslims.

The viral video clips compelled the police to file a First Info Report (FIR) in opposition to some audio system on the occasion and arrest a number of folks, together with hardline monk Yati Narsinghanand, who was later launched on bail.

In April this 12 months, Zubair shared one other purported video clip displaying Bajrang Muni Das, a controversial monk allegedly threatening to rape Muslim ladies whereas addressing a crowd in Uttar Pradesh’s Sitapur district. Das was arrested however quickly granted bail.

Livid with such exposés, right-wing Hindus have brazenly referred to as Zubair an “Islamist” and a “jihadist”, accusing him of focusing on them and demanding motion in opposition to him and his web site.

Alt Information has additionally labored with police in amassing proof in circumstances of hate crimes.

In July final 12 months, dozens of Muslim ladies in India discovered themselves “up on the market” on a cell app referred to as Sulli Offers. The app featured footage of dozens of ladies, together with activists and journalists, for “public sale”, describing them as “offers of the day”.

In an identical incident final January, images of greater than 100 Muslim ladies, together with outstanding actress Shabana Azmi, spouse of a sitting choose of the Delhi Excessive Courtroom, journalists, activists and politicians have been seen on one other app referred to as Bulli Bai.

Sulli and Bulli are derogatory phrases for Muslim ladies, whereas Bai means a housemaid.

Zubair and his organisation investigated the folks behind the 2 apps by digging into their social media accounts, addresses obtainable on-line and their web histories.

It’s due to such work the previous telecom engineer says he’s being focused by right-wing Hindu teams and people near the BJP.

Earlier than he was arrested, Zubair had not less than 5 FIRs in opposition to him. In September 2020, two FIRs have been lodged in opposition to him – one in New Delhi and the opposite in Chhattisgarh state’s capital Raipur – underneath the Safety of Youngsters from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act for alleged “on-line harassment and torture” of a minor lady.

To evade arrest for what he referred to as politically motivated causes, Zubair moved out of his home and lived away from his household for a month earlier than a courtroom assured him he wouldn’t be arrested.

“Everybody in my household was very scared for me and so they even instructed me to stop this work or go away the home. They didn’t need me to go away the home however thought, perhaps if we are saying so he may cease doing this work,” he instructed Al Jazeera.

‘Focused for his Muslim id’

Ziya Us Salam, a journalist with The Hindu newspaper and writer, instructed Al Jazeera that Zubair does what mainstream Indian media has didn’t do.

“The media needed to name out the lies of the federal government or numerous political events and leaders. It failed to take action. It was as much as folks like Zubair and others to reveal these issues and that’s precisely what Zubair has accomplished,” he stated.

Alt Information co-founder Sinha says whereas he and Zubair have been focused in a number of methods, he claims his colleague is “primarily being focused for his Muslim id”.

“Zubair is a really dedicated particular person to his work and rules,” Sinha instructed Al Jazeera.

“Menace is at all times there and it might proceed to be there, particularly for Zubair as a result of he’s a vocal Muslim voice. The folks particularly inside BJP and supporters detest vocal impartial Muslim voices so they may do every little thing they will do to suppress one such voice.”

For the reason that prophet remarks controversy, Zubair says the threats in opposition to him and his household had elevated.

“This time, I feel the threats are severe as a result of lots of people felt unhealthy, pondering that India needed to bow down. They felt unhealthy that Nupur was getting threats and so they suppose all of it occurred due to me and I’m the one particular person accountable for this,” he stated.

Regardless of the threats, Zubair stated if given a alternative between his telecom profession and the actual fact checking he does, he’ll select the latter.

“I might wish to proceed as a result of, be it reality checking or calling out hate mongering or reporting hate speeches, sadly not many are reporting them,” he stated.


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