What Is The Case Against Alt News Co-founder Mohammed Zubair?

What Is The Case Against Alt News Co-founder Mohammed Zubair?
On June 27, Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair was arrested by the Delhi Police, for allegedly hurting religious sentiments, on the basis of a tweet he posted four years back. | Image sources: Alt News/The Telegraph/BBC

Self-proclaimed fact-checking website Alt News has claimed that the Bengaluru-based payment gateway company Razorpay has handed over its donors’ data to Delhi Police. Amid allegations of having received funds from abroad, the organisation has claimed that the details were shared with the police without informing the company.

Razorpay, in its statement, has admitted that it shared the data as it was mandated to comply with the written order from legal authorities under the provisions of the law. Delhi Police is probing the donations received by Alt News following the arrest of its co-founder Mohammed Zubair.

Alt News has also claimed that Razorpay had deactivated its account following a request from authorities, however, they re-activated it after getting more clarity. 

The organisation pointed out that had Razorpay found any violation of their terms and conditions it would not have enabled Alt News’ account again.

“We had received a written order from the legal authorities under Section 91 of the CrPC (Code of Criminal Procedure) and we are mandated to comply with the same as per the regulation under the provisions of Indian law,” the fintech platform said. “We will continue to hold the highest standard of data security, defend our customers at all times and also continue to abide by the laws and regulations of India,” said Razorpay.

The company said that it is looking for options for their donation mode, but will continue with Razorpay as of now.

Who Is Mohammed Zubair And What Is The Case Against Him?

Mohammed Zubair is the co-founder of self-proclaimed fact-checking website Alt News, which was established in 2017, with the aim to fight against fake news in India. Alt News is one of the most critical websites in India, that regularly exposes fake news and malicious campaigns run by trolls on social media. Zubair has been in the crosshairs of Hindutva outfits and right wing leaders for allegedly trying to spread hatred, and has played a significant role in tackling disinformation in the past several years. As part of Alt News, Zubair has often exposed the fake news peddled by mainstream media.

On June 27, Mohammed Zubair was arrested by the Delhi Police, for allegedly hurting religious sentiments, on the basis of a tweet he posted four years back. They arrested Zubair after an anonymous Twitter handle named ‘Hanuman Bhakt’ tagged their account on his old tweet, in which, he had shared a screenshot taken from a 1983 Hindi movie in 2018.

The move came days after Zubair highlighted the BJP’s now suspended national spokesperson Nupur Sharma’s controversial remarks against Prophet Muhammad, which put the Indian government into  huge diplomatic trouble. Sharma’s remarks against the prophet were condemned by Islamic countries, who summoned the respective Indian envoys and demanded an official apology from India.

Last month, Zubair was also booked for calling Hindutva leaders Bajrang Muni and Yati Narsinghanand ‘hate mongers’.

He was sent to judicial custody last week, for 14 days, after Additional Public Prosecutor Atul Shrivastava alleged that the Alt News co-founder accepted payments from Pakistan, Syria, Australia, Singapore, and the UAE, through Razorpay, and that it requires further investigation.

Alt News has categorically denied the allegations and said that all donation related details are easily available, and can be accessed from the organisation’s bank accounts. 

Pratik Sinha, the other co-founder of Alt News, said that these are attempts to shut down Alt News, but the company will continue to work against fake news. 

 

Read more: Prophet Row: Ex-SC Judges Write Letter To CJI Over Police Brutality In UP

 

Condemnations Against Zubair’s Arrest

Several opposition leaders and global press bodies have condemned the arrest of Mohammed Zubair, calling it an attack on free press.  

Rahul Gandhi said that every person exposing the BJP’s hate and bigotry is a threat to the party, while noting that truth will prevail. “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,” he tweeted.

Congress leader Shashi Tharoor also criticised the arrest of Zubair. “India’s few fact-checking services, especially @AltNews , perform a vital service in our post-truth political environment, rife with disinformation. They debunk falsehoods whoever perpetrates them. To arrest @zoo_bear is an assault on truth. He should be released immediately,” wrote Tharoor on Twitter.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres also reacted to the arrest of Zubair and said that journalists should not be jailed for what they say, tweet, and write. “It is very important that people be allowed to express themselves freely, journalists be allowed to express themselves freely and without the threat of any harassment,” he said.

Calling for Zubair’s release, the International Press Institute (IPI) tweeted, “Indian authorities must uphold free expression and #pressfreedom. Zubair must be immediately freed.”

Taking a jibe at the Modi government over his arrest, the Press Club Of India said that it is ironic that Mohammed Zubair’s arrest by the Delhi Police came on a day when India joined G7 and four other countries to “protect free speech online and offline”.

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