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‘Alt News Resented by Those Who Use Disinformation as Tool’: Editors Guild Urges Zubair’s Release

"It is ironic that Mohammed Zubair's arrest came on a day when India joined G7 and four other countries to protect free speech, online and offline," the Press Club of India said.

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New Delhi: Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair’s arrest was condemned by several media bodies, including the Editors Guild of India and the Press Club of India, on June 28, Tuesday.

Noting that it is “apparent that Alt News’s alert vigilance was resented by those who use disinformation as a tool to polarise the society and rake nationalist sentiments,” the Editors Guild of India has condemned the arrest of the fact-checking website’s co-founder Mohammed Zubair.

“In a bizarre turn of events, Zubair was called in for questioning by the special cell of Delhi Police in a case from 2020, for which he already had a protection against arrest from the Delhi High Court. However, when Zubair responded to the summons, he was arrested in relation to a criminal investigation initiated earlier in the month, after an anonymous twitter handle alleged that Zubair’s 2018 post was hurting religious sentiments,” the statement reads.

Alt News co-founder Pratik Sinha had tweeted these details in the aftermath of Zubair’s surprise arrest on Monday, June 27.

Social media commentators have since found that the 2018 post that police claimed had hurt religious sentiments was, in fact, the still of a Hrishikesh Mukherjee film.

“Zubair has been arrested under sections 153 and 295 of the Indian Penal Code. 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,” the statement notes.

It is signed by EGI president Seema Mustafa, general secretary Sanjay Kapoor and treasurer Anant Nath.

The statement then contextualises his renewed presence in the radar of rightwing Twitter.

“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 statement says, referring to Zubair’s tweets bringing to light BJP leader Nupur Sharma’s comments against Islam at a national television debate.

After international backlash, BJP suspended Sharma and expelled Naveen Jindal who had tweeted similar comments in defence of Sharma.

“It is apparent that AltNews’ alert vigilance was resented by those who use disinformation as a tool to polarise the society and rake nationalist sentiments,” the EGI noted.

The EGI demanded that Delhi Police immediately release Muhammad Zubair, observing that such a move could help India move closer to promises made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi as part of G-7 countries.

“We hail all courageous defenders of democratic systems that stand against oppression and violence, and will step up international cooperation to improve the resilience of democratic societies globally,” a joint statement at the meet said.

Condemning the journalist’s arrest by the Delhi Police, the Press Club of India in its statement said, “It is ironic that Mohammed Zubair’s arrest came on a day when India joined G7 and four other countries to protect free speech ‘online and offline’.”

“The action by the Delhi Police in hastily arresting Mohammed Zubair showed the blatant violation of the country’s commitment on the global platform given by none other than the Prime Minister himself,” it noted.

“As a fact-checking site AltNews was acting as an instrument to cut through the jungle of disinformation which was being spread through fake news with an aim to create fissures in the society. Constant vigilance is the price we pay for being vibrant, diverse and largest democracy in the world and AltNews was fulfilling that role. It is sad to know that Mohammed Zubair had to pay the price for vigilance for his uncalled for arrest for a post made in 2018,” the statement read.

It further said that the Delhi Police’s action “defies both the law and common sense” as the action against the journalist was initiated after years without giving notice for a post it believed was “highly provocative.”

The PCI, therefore, demanded the Alt News co-founder be released immediately.

It also condemned the arrest of Teesta Setalvad, whose NGO, Citizens for Justice and Peace, litigated cases stemming from the 2002 anti-Muslim massacres in Gujarat, especially the Gulberg Society and Naroda Patiya killings.