Know about Mohammed Zubair, fact-checker, AltNews co-founder
On Monday, Delhi police arrested Mohammed Zubair, the 38-year-old co-founder of fact-checking website AltNews, on the charges of hurting religious sentiments through a tweet posted in 2018. A magistrate’s court in a late night hearing remanded Zubair to one-day police custody.
Who is Mohammed Zubair?
Zubair, a former engineer, is the co-founder of popular fact-checking website AltNews, which he founded with Pratik Sinha in 2017 to fight fake news and present the real story behind a viral image, a photograph or a campaign before the audience.
It was, in fact, Zubair who had tweeted the video clip of a TV debate in which former BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma made derogatory comments against Prophet Muhammad. The comment which triggered massive outrage among Muslims, was condemned by over a dozen Islamic countries including Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, forcing the Narendra Modi government to sack Sharma.
Fight against fake news
Based in Ahmedabad, AltNews has 12 full-time staffers and more than 1.3 million followers. In an interview with Rest of the World, Zubair said, besides misinformation on movie stars, COVID and home remedies, a huge chunk of fake news is related religious minorities, mostly Muslims.
He cited how a set of particular photographs from Egypt can be misrepresented as Ramzan gatherings in India amid the COVID-19 pandemic, just to defame the community.
A look at his Twitter account provides glimpses of the journalist’s attempts to call out fake news and misleading videos and photographs which threaten to target minorities.
He is among many journalists in India who are being targeted for speaking out against a majoritarian agenda and hate politics and are constantly under the radar of the government and enforcement agencies.
“The fear that one of us could be arrested is always there…But more than that, the problem is the amount of time and energy expended on legal cases,” AltNews founder Pratik Sinha told Article14 earlier this month, recounting the travails of the job.
Why was Zubair arrested?
Zubair was arrested for a tweet he made in 2018.
Zubair had tweeted a clip from Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s 1983 film Kissi Se Na Kehna. In the photo, a board reads “Hanuman Hotel” in Hindi while paint marks suggest that it was earlier named “Honeymoon” and later changed.
“Before 2014: Honeymoon Hotel, After 2014: Hanuman Hotel,” Zubair had tweeted.
In its FIR, the Delhi Police said the tweet was “highly proactive and more than sufficient to incite feeling of hatred.”
The FIR was filed on the complaint of a Delhi police sub inspector.
Zubair, however, was called to Delhi regarding questioning in a 2020 case, in which the court has given him protection from arrest, and was arrested for the above case.
Five cases across three states
Zubair has at least five cases against him filed over 21 months across five cities in three states.
Earlier this month, a case was filed against Zubair for allegedly hurting religious sentiments by calling Mahant Bajrang Muni ‘Udasin,’ Yati Narsinghanand and Swami Anand Swarup as “hatemongers” in a tweet. Bhagwan Sharan, the Sitapur unit chief of the Hindu Sher Sena, who had filed the FIR had alleged that Zubair through his tweet had tried to “incite Muslims and hurt Hindu sentiments as part of a conspiracy.” He also alleged that Zubair was inciting Muslims to murder Hindu leaders.
It is to be noted that Yati Narsinghanand, the chief priest of the Dasna temple in UP’s Ghaziabad is one of the accused in the Haridwar Dharm Sansad hate speech case.
In 2020, Zubair was booked under sections of the IT Act, and POCSO by the cyber cell of Delhi police and the Raipur police in Chhattisgarh, for posting the photo of a minor girl, whose face was blurred, along with her father. Zubair was engaged in a twitter spat with the father.
While Zubair was granted anticipatory bail by courts in Delhi and Raipur, during a hearing of the case in May 2022, the Delhi police told the Delhi High Court that the tweet “does not constitute any cognizable offence.”
In another FIR, Zubair was booked for tweeting a video clip in which a senior citizen appears to be assaulted in UP’s Ghaziabad district. Police said the accused persons – which included journalists like Rana Ayub and Saba Naqvi – had tweeted the clip along with comments which hinted that the assault was a result of communal violence, while the real reason was a personal dispute.
‘Punching bag of Hindutva brigade’
In an interview with Article 14, Zubair said that he is targeted by right-wing elements on social media every time he calls out their bluff or hate speech.
Even in the tweet regarding Nupur Sharma’s remarks, Zubair said he had not mentioned her name, but had tagged Times Now editor Navika Kumar and managing director of Bennet and Coleman Co Ltd Vineet Jain, asking why television news anchors allowed hate speech to be aired.
While Times Now later deleted the video, Zubair was accused of doctoring it as well as orchestrating the hate campaign and public outrage against Nupur Sharma.
“They said if anything happens to her it would be only me who was responsible. OpIndia wrote several articles blaming me,” he told Article14. “Several people from the BJP, verified handles, Kanchan Gupta (a government adviser) and many others, started blaming me.”
Recently Yati Narsinghanand called Zubair a “jihad” and accused him for causing trouble to Nupur Sharma and for the case against Jitendra Tyagi, a co-accused in the Haridwar hate speech incident.
“One more. Documenting hate speeches and hate crimes is not crime,” Zubair had tweeted on June 10, sharing a letter to him by Twitter informing him about turning down Mumbai Police’s request to freeze his account.