Editors Guild of India condemns Mohammed Zubair's arrest
The Editors Guild of India on Tuesday condemned the arrest of Mohammed Zubair, co-founder of fact-checking website AltNews, saying the organisation’s “alert vigilance was resented by those who use disinformation as a tool to polarise the society and rake nationalist sentiments”.
In a statement, the guild said: “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 protection against arrest from Delhi High Court. However, when Zubair responded to the summons, he was arrested in relation to a criminal investigation initiated earlier this month, after an anonymous Twitter handle alleged that Zubair’s 2018 post was hurting religious sentiments.”
It noted that AltNews had done exemplary work over the past few years in identifying fake news and countering disinformation campaigns and demanded Zubair’s immediate release.
“This is necessary to buttress the commitment made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the G7 meet in Germany to ensure a resilient democracy by protecting online and offline content,” the guild said.
The Press Club of India also decried Zubair’s arrest, asserting that freedom of expression is an essential “ingredient of democracy”.
Demanding his release, the PCI said “the coercive action defies both the law and the common sense”, considering the action was initiated against him for a Twitter post after years without giving any notice.
AltNews was merely fulfilling its role by cracking down on and correcting disinformation that was being spread through “fake news” with an aim to create fissures in the society, it said.
“It is saddening to know that Mohammed Zubair had to pay the price for vigilance by his uncalled for arrest for a post made in 2018,” the PCI added.
The PCI also highlighted how India on Monday signed the “2022 Resilient Democracies statement” at the G7 summit in Germany, which reiterated the commitment to guard the freedom, independence and diversity of civil society actors and protect the freedom of expression and opinion online and offline.
“It is disturbing that Delhi police arrested AltNews co-founder around the same time when the PM was associating himself with the noble declaration along with world leaders. Are the Union home ministry and Delhi police not on the same page with the Prime Minister on the commitment to freedom of expression,” it said in a statement.
The PCI said Zubair’s arrest “showed the blatant violation of the country’s commitment on the global platform given by none other than the Prime Minister himself”.
Amnesty International India on Tuesday said Zubair’s arrest was a violation of the right to freedom of expression and an abuse of power by the authorities.
“The arrest of Mohammed Zubair, co-founder of AltNews — an independent fact checking website — for a 2018 satirical tweet shows the danger facing human rights defenders has reached a crisis point in India,” it said in a statement.
“It is clear that the Indian authorities are targeting Zubair for his crucial work combating the rise in fake news and disinformation and calling out discrimination against minorities. We call on the Delhi police to immediately and unconditionally release Zubair and end their relentless harassment of journalists, human rights defenders and activists.”