A First Information Report (FIR) was lodged against media website Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair on Wednesday, 1 June, with regard to a tweet of his in which he had called a Hindutva leader named Bajrang Muni a "hate monger." Muni had allegedly threatened to kidnap and rape Muslim women on 2 April.
In a tweet on 27 May, Zubair had also labelled Hindutva leader Yati Narsinghanand and former Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA Anand Swaroop as "hate mongers," apart from Muni.
"Why do we need hate mongers like Yati Narsinghanand Saraswati or Mahant Bajrang Muni or Anand Swaroop to arrange a Dharam Sansad to speak against a community and a religion when we already have anchors who can do (a) much better job from news studios," Zubair's tweet read.
The FIR was filed in the Khairabad Police Station in Uttar Pradesh's Sitapur district on the basis of a complaint by Rashtriya Hindu Sher Sena member Bhagwan Sharan.
Zubair was charged under Section 295(A) (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Section 67 of the Information Technology (IT) Act.
What Is the Case Involving Bajrang Muni?
In a video purportedly shot on 2 April, Muni, clad in a saffron robe and sitting inside a jeep, could be seen addressing a gathering in UP's Sitapur from his car. As his procession came near a mosque, he was heard saying that he would kidnap and rape Muslim women if any Muslim man harasses women in the area.
He also alleged that Rs 28 lakh had been allocated to get him murdered by Muslims in the area.
Muni was arrested over the incident, and provided bail on 24 April. After being released, he said that he had no regrets, and argued that he had made the statements to protect Hindu women.
DIGIPUB Condemns FIR Against Zubair, Urges UP Govt to Withdraw Case Immediately
DIGIPUB News India Foundation, a coalition of digital media organisations, on Thursday put out a statement saying that it "condemns in the strongest possible terms the harassment of Mohammed Zubair, co-founder of Alt News."
Stating that this was the fifth FIR registered against Zubair in the last two years, the statement read:
"It does not bode well for a society when hate speech and active calls to violence go unpunished, furthermore when journalists who report judiciously to ensure that citizens are not victimised, are slapped with oppressive laws."
It further stressed, "Journalistic values are fundamentally the same as democratic values. Such repeated assaults on journalists and fact checkers are assaults on democracy. DIGIPUB will stand with Zubair and help him combat such continuing persecution with all legal options."
The DIGIPUB Foundation added that the "news media's relationship with various governments are no doubt adversarial but neither need to see the other as an enemy to be crushed. The UP government seems to have forgotten that. It is all our duties to maintain a robust and healthy democratic tradition and let us try to do our bit."
The foundation also urged the state of Uttar Pradesh to withdraw the case immediately.
"The use of such stringent laws as tools against journalists who have been accorded the role of playing watchdog against the misuse of institutional machinery of the state must be stopped," the statement noted.
While the FIR was lodged in connection with Zubair's remark on Muni, his tweet also mentioned Narsinghanand and Swaroop, both of whom have been charged with delivering hate speeches and inciting violence against Muslims.
Hate Speech Case Against Narsinghanand
Narsinghanand had been booked by the Delhi Police for organising a "Hindu Mahapanchayat" in Burari, which saw alleged hate speeches being delivered on 3 April.
Narsinghanand, the head priest of Ghaziabad’s Dasna Devi temple, had reportedly incited the attendees of the assembly to pick up arms if India gets a Muslim prime minister.
He had said that 40 percent Hindus will be killed if India were to get a Muslim PM. "This is the future of Hindus. If you want to change this, be a man (mard bano). What is it to be a man? Someone who is armed," he added.
Narsinghanand was in February released on bail in another hate speech case against him. The right-wing leader had been booked for organising the Haridwar conclave of 2021, where rabid hate speeches were delivered against the Muslim community.
A similar event was organised in Prayagraj in February, during which former BJP MLA Anand Swaroop had allegedly incited violence against Muslims while urging voters to re-elect Yogi Adityanath as the chief minister of UP ahead of the state's Assembly election.
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