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New Delhi: Fact-checking website Alt News‘ Razorpay account – the platform through which it receives donations – was deactivated for a few hours on Monday, July 4. It was restored hours later by the payment provider which said that it had disabled the account from its platform “temporarily, as a safety precaution, during the preliminary investigation by law enforcement authorities”, the Indian Express has reported.
The development comes at a time when AltNews‘ co-founder Mohammed Zubair is facing charges in two cases; one filed by the Delhi Police and another by the law enforcement agency in Uttar Pradesh. On Monday, July 4, he was remanded to 14-day judicial custody by a court in Uttar Pradesh’s Sitapur, based on a first information report (FIR) filed on June 1 in response to Zubair calling Hindutva hardliners “hatemongers”.
On Monday, July 4, Alt News, in a statement, said many had reached out to them after they were not able to send their donations. Confirming the deactivation of its Razorpay account, Alt News said, “We are in the process of shifting our donation system to a new platform, and will inform our readers and supporters when we have made the shift.”
The disabling of Alt News‘ Razorpay payment link comes just two days after the Delhi Police had added fresh charges against Zubair, who was arrested on June 27 for an alleged objectionable tweet he had posted in 2018 for hurting religious sentiments.
On Saturday, July 2, when his bail plea was rejected by a Delhi court, the police added fresh charges of Section 120B (criminal conspiracy) and 201 (causing disappearance of evidence of offence) of the Indian Penal Code and Section 35 (punishment of five years for anyone who helps a person, a political party or an organisation in getting foreign contribution in violation of the Act) of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act.
During the hearing the bail plea hearing, additional public prosecutor Atul Shrivastava had told the court that Zubair “accepted payments through RazorPay from Pakistan, Syria, Australia, Singapore, UAE, which all require further investigation”. Delhi Police had also said that the parent company of AltNews had received more than Rs 2 lakh in foreign funding.
However, Alt News denied allegations with regard to foreign contributions. “AltNews runs under a company under Sec 8. They are saying I am a journalist, I cannot receive FCRA. This is to the company, not to me. It hasn’t gone into my account. I am making a categorical statement,” Zubair’s counsel Vrinda Grover had said during bail plea hearing.
According to Indian Express, Razorpay clarified that it had only temporarily deactivated the account and restored it soon “following clarity on the issue”.
“Razorpay is a law-abiding, fully compliant organisation that is relentlessly working towards building the financial backbone for Indian merchants. The merchant [AltNews] account was deactivated from Razorpay platform temporarily, as a safety precaution, during the preliminary investigation by the law enforcement authorities,” a spokesperson for Razorpay said. “Following clarity on the issue, we have unblocked and reactivated the account. We have extended our full cooperation to law enforcement authorities…,” the fintech company said in a statement.
However, the company did not elaborate on what it meant by receiving “clarity on the issue”. The IE report said Razorpay did not respond to a query asking it to explain further on the same and whether it had found that the payment link was not used to receive donations from abroad, as claimed by Delhi Police in court.