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New Delhi: Hours after the Supreme Court granted Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair bail in a case filed by the Sitapur police, an FIR filed by a Sudarshan TV employee with the police in Lakhimpur Kheri has been used to summon him for questioning, presumably as a precursor to seeking his custody.
This is the fourth set of charges – one for a 2018 tweet, one for alleged FCRA violations, one for a May 2022 tweet and now one for a 2021 tweet – thrown at the celebrated fact-checker is less than two weeks by the police in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh.
The Lakhimpur police filed an FIR on September 18, 2021 against Zubair after a local court directed it do so after being approached by the complainant.
The FIR charged Zubair under Section 153-A (promoting enmity between two groups) after a Sudarshan TV reporter, Ashish Kumar Katiyar, complained that he had accused the channel on Twitter of using a doctored image of the famous Madina mosque in a graphic depicting an Israeli rocket attack on the Gaza strip in 2021.
Sudarshan TV broadcasts extremist Hindutva content and was criticised by the Supreme Court in 2020 for targeting Muslims in its programming.
Though Katiyar’s FIR mentions a Zubair tweet of May 14, 2021, it does not include a copy or a URL and it is likely the ‘complaint’ pertains to this tweet of May 15, 2021 (US time)/May 16, 201 (IST):
RW propaganda channel @SudarshanNewsTV has used a pic of Al Masjid an Nabawi from Madina, superimposed it with an old pic from Ghaza, with graphics bombing the Mosque.
Is this reporting or trying to incite violence. Hope @Uppolice @noidapolice @dgpup takes action. pic.twitter.com/CE4BnGtT5k
— Mohammed Zubair (@zoo_bear) May 15, 2021
In his tweet, Zubair posted the doctored images taken as a screenshot from the YouTube page of Sudarshan TV and questioned, “Is this reporting or trying to incite violence”. The indiscriminate misuse of the Al-Masjid An Nabawi mosque at Madina has become a regular phenomenon in Hindu right’s social media posts. While fact-checking the photoshopped images that showed the mosque being bombed during the Israeli missile strikes in Gaza, Zubair also urged the Uttar Pradesh police, Noida police, and DGP, UP to take action against what he believed was a deliberate attempt to incite violence.
The UP police didn’t act on Zubair’s complaint, but almost a year later has dug out the September 2021 FIR against him to obtain a warrant after the Supreme Court granted him five days of interim bail in a case registered by the Sitapur police for describing three militant Hindu priests as “hate mongers”. The trio – Yati Narasinghanand, Mahant Bajrang Muni and Anand Swaroop – is accused in various hate speech cases in UP, Uttarakhand and Delhi.
Kaityar, who filed his complaint at the Mohammadi police station in Lakhimpur Kheri district of UP, alleged that Zubair used a “fake graphic” to incite Muslims across the globe to “mobilise against the channel and start riots in the countries”.
Katiyar claims, “This matter is of 14 May 2021 when accused no. 1 (Zubair) with the help of accused no. 2 (Twitter) started a rumour on the basis of a fake graphic alleging that the graphic used by Sudarshan news is of Masjid Nabwi Medina. He appealed to Muslims all over the world to create chaos and mobilise against the channel and start riots in the countries. Some people reacted to the news and anti-national poison was spread.”
Not only does Katiyar fail to cite any tweet where Zubair made such an appeal, his complaint falsely claims that “in reality, the picture is not from Medina but Gaza and in both the pictures green colour was used to represent mosques”.
Zubair’s tweet clearly shows how the Madina mosque was superimposed in the image that Sudarshan TV used to portray Israel’s attack on Gaza.
Alleging that Zubair’s tweet hurt the “channel’s reputation”, “vitiated communal harmony” and “disturbed his mental condition”, Katiyar sought immediate legal action against Zubair and Twitter.
Zubair was first taken into custody by the Delhi police in a case filed against him under Section 153-A (promoting enmity between two groups) and 295 (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs) of the Indian Penal Code for a four-year-old tweet.
Days later, Sitapur police in Uttar Pradesh also filed a similar case against him, following which he was brought to Sitapur from Delhi by the Delhi police. However, the SC gave him an interim bail but Zubair continues to be in custody because of cases against him in New Delhi and now Lakhimpur Kheri.
The journalist’s arrest has been criticised by press associations, with the Editors Guild of India saying 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”.