Indian police arrest prominent journalist and Modi critic over tweets


Prominent Indian journalist, Mohammed Zubair, was arrested by the police in New Delhi on Monday after being accused of insulting Hindu religious beliefs on Twitter.

Mr. Zubair is co-founder of the fact-checking website AltNews and has been a vocal critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.

Opposition leaders and media organisations have condemned the arrest saying it was a clear attempt by the Hindu-nationalist government to clamp down on those who expose hate speech.

Mr. Zubair recently highlighted comments by a spokesperson of the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad during a television debate. His tweet was widely shared and led to several Muslim countries lodging strong protests with India.

In recent weeks, Hindu nationalists have drawn attention to past comments made by Mr. Zubair and demanded that he be prosecuted for hurting their religious feelings.

On Monday, Mr. Zubair was detained over a complaint from a Twitter account that said he insulted Hindus in a 2018 post commenting on the renaming of a hotel after the Hindu monkey god Hanuman, the ANI news agency reported, citing senior Delhi police officials.

A statement by the police later said that the tweet had been amplified by Mr. Zubair’s Twitter followers and “created a series of debates/hate mongering”.

Police claim their investigation found Mr. Zubair’s conduct “questionable” which “warranted his custodial interrogation”.

Pratik Sinha, also a co-founder of AltNews, who accompanied him to the police, said neither he nor Mr. Zubair’s lawyers were provided with a copy of the complaint on which the arrest was made.

They were also initially not told where he was being taken after being detained.

Mr. Zubair was produced before a local magistrate late on Monday night who granted the police one day’s custody. Following this, he was allowed to meet his lawyer. A court on Tuesday remanded him in custody for a further four days.

Many journalists and activists have been demanding his immediate release.

“Zubair who routinely busted fake news, exposed the hate machinery in India has just been arrested,” said Rana Ayyub, a Muslim journalist. “The country is punishing those who reported, documented the decline.”

Opposition Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted: “Every person exposing BJP’s hate, bigotry and lies is a threat to them. Arresting one voice of truth will only give rise to a thousand more.”

Police said at the centre of the arrest was a 2018 tweet by Mr. Zubair in which he had shared a photo of a hotel signboard, modified from ‘Honeymoon Hotel’ to ‘Hanuman Hotel’.

The photo was actually a screengrab from a 1983 Bollywood comedy by acclaimed director Hrishikesh Mukherjee.

But a Twitter account called Hanuman Bhakt, meaning worshipper of the monkey god Hanuman, recently shared the four-year-old tweet and called it a “direct insult” to Hindus.

The account also tagged the Delhi police, asking them to take “immediate action” against Mr. Zubair.

The anonymous account, created last October, had just one follower until Tuesday morning. It has since risen rapidly to cross 1,500 followers. (Source: BBC)