'Assault on Truth': Journalists, Politicians Mince No Words in Condemning Zubair's Arrest

Several highlighted the wide disparity between the police's treatment of personalities who routinely spew hate speech and the way the fact-checker has been taken to task for a 2018 tweet.

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New Delhi: Within minutes of news breaking on social media of Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair’s arrest by Delhi Police, condemnation poured in from journalists, opposition politicians, journalists’ organisations both global and national, commentators and consumers of news.

Most highlighted the role played by Zubair and Alt News in tackling disinformation in the last few years. That this made him a direct target of fake news generators was highlighted by the Editors Guild of India in their statement condemning the journalist’s arrest.

Among global bodies who called upon authorities to immediately release Zubair was the Committee to Protect Journalists.

“The arrest of journalist Mohammad Zubair marks another low for press freedom in India, where the government has created a hostile and unsafe environment for members of the press reporting on sectarian issues,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, in Washington, D.C.

“Authorities must immediately and unconditionally release Zubair, and allow him to pursue his journalistic work without further interference.”

The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, journalists and media executives defending press freedom has also condemned the arrest, calling for Zubair’s release.

DIGIPUB, an organisation of digital news media organisations of which The Wire is a part, has also condemned the arrest, noting that it “firmly stands with Zubair”, and urging the Delhi Police to “immediately” withdraw the case.

The Press Club of India, in addition to calling for his release, has also cited Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promise to uphold freedom of speech at the G-7 meeting.

The fact that Zubair’s arrest came on the same day when  Modi spoke on the 1975 Emergency, called by Indira Gandhi, and vowed as part of the signatories of a G-7 pact to “improve the resilience of democratic societies” was an irony highlighted by many.

Prominent journalists focused on the harm such a move would deal to press freedom.

Hashtags calling for Zubair’s release were widely used by many who pointed out that the work undertaken by him and fact-checkers like him was essential and kept truth at the forefront. The hashtag #IStandWithZubair has by now been tweeted more than 500,000 times.

Aakar Patel, chair of board for Amnesty International India, said that Zubair’s arrest shows that the danger facing human rights defenders in India has reached a crisis point.

“The fact that he was not provided a copy of the FIR and was detained incommunicado during the initial hours following his arrest shows just how brazen the Indian authorities have become. Harassment, intimidation, unlawful and arbitrary arrests, and imprisonment of human rigts defenders for tirelessly seeking truth and justice has become alarmingly commonplace in India,” the statement read.

Congress leaders, including Rahul Gandhi, also tweeted against the arrest. Gandhi’s use of the hashtag #DaroMat led to it trending on Tuesday morning.

MP Shashi Tharoor, like Gandhi, highlighted the “assault on truth” that such an arrest signified.

Congress whip in Lok Sabha Manickam Tagore also demanded an immediate release of the journalist.

Several journalists and politicians highlighted the nature of the purported crime for which Zubair had been made to pay – exposing hate speech.

Several also highlighted the wide disparity between the police’s treatment of personalities who routinely spew hate speech and the way Zubair has been taken to task for a 2018 tweet.

AIMIM’s Asaduddin Owaisi and Trinamool Congress’s Saket Gokhale are among those who asked why Delhi Police is usually one to give a pass to distinctly recognisable hate speech but has been active in arresting the journalist over a five-year-old tweet.