A day after Alt News co-founder and journalist Mohammed Zubair was arrested by the Delhi Police, the Editors Guild of India on Tuesday, 28 June released a statement decrying the arrest, and appealed for Zubair's immediate release.
Calling the events leading up to the arrest "bizarre" and the sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) invoked against him "disturbing," the statement read,
"Zubair has been arrested under sections 153 (promotion of enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, etc) and 295 (outraging religious feelings) of the IPC. This is extremely disturbing because Zubair and his website AltNews have done some exemplary work over the past few years in identifying fake news and countering disinformation campaigns, in a very objective and factual manner."EGI statement
Further, the statement noted that it was "an exposure of toxic remarks of a ruling party spokesperson on a TV channel that allowed the party to make amends," referring to Zubair shedding light on Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson Nupur Sharma's Islamophobic remarks on national television.
After at least 16 nations, as well as the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which consists of 56 member states, censured the BJP over the comments, Sharma was suspended from the party.
“It is apparent that AltNews’ alert vigilance was resented by those who use disinformation as a tool to polarise the society and rake nationalist sentiments,” the EGI statement on Tuesday read.
In the backdrop of Prime Minister Narendra Modi attending the G7 summit, where he backed free speech both online and offline, the EGI said it demands the Delhi Police should immediately release Zubair.
'Saddening To Know Zubair Had To Pay the Price for Constant Vigilance': Press Club of India
The Press Club of India (PCI) also deplored Zubair's arrest, asserting that freedom of expression is an essential "ingredient of democracy."
"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'. Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended the G7 meet in Germany where the signatories also committed to "protect freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief and promoting inter-faith dialogue," PCI said in a statement.
It added that it was "disturbing" that Delhi Police "hastily" arrested the AltNews co-founder around the same time when Modi associated himself with the "noble declaration along with world leaders."
The arrest "showed the blatant violation of the country's commitment on the global platform given by none other that the Prime Minister himself," the statement read further.
Alt News was only cracking and correcting disinformation that was being spread through "fake news" aiming to create fissures in the society, it continued, saying that the fact-checking site was merely fulfilling its role.
"It is saddening to know that Mohammed Zubair had to pay the price for constant vigilance by his uncalled for arrest for a post" that was posted years ago, the Press Club added.
They also have demanded immediate release of the journalist.
Indian Authorities Must Stop Harassing Zubair: Committee to Protect Journalists
Indian authorities should immediately and unconditionally release journalist Mohammed Zubair, said the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on Monday, adding to the list of those condemning the arrest.
The authorities must stop harassing Zubair in retaliation for his work, said the CPJ, an American NGO that promotes freedom of press and defends the rights of journalists.
“The arrest of journalist Mohammed Zubair marks another low for press freedom in India, where the government has created a hostile and unsafe environment for members of the press reporting on sectarian issues,” stated Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia programme coordinator, in Washington, DC.
“Authorities must immediately and unconditionally release Zubair, and allow him to pursue his journalistic work without further interference," he added.
DIGIPUB Condemns Arrest, Calls It 'Unjustifiable'
The DIGIPUB News India Foundation had also released a statement on Twitter and condemned “in the strongest possible terms” the arrest of Zubair.
The statement read, “DIGIPUB, an organisation of digital media organisations, strongly condemns the arrest on 27 June of Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair.”
The organisation urged the Delhi Police to withdraw the case immediately and said that use of such stringent laws as tools against journalists who are considered the fourth pillar of democracy must be stopped.
It added, “In a democracy, where every individual possesses the right to exercise the freedom of speech and expression, it is unjustifiable that such stringent laws are being used as tools against journalists, who have been accorded the role of playing watchdog against the misuse of the institutions of the state.”
“We stand firmly with Zubair,” said the statement.
What Happened on Monday?
Zubair was arrested by Delhi Police on Monday night. The case against him pertained to a tweet by him over which they received a complaint from a Twitter user claiming that their religious sentiments were hurt.
The journalist's colleague, Pratik Sinha had said that no FIR copy was being given to them "despite repeated requests.”
"Zubair was called today by special cell, Delhi for investigation in a 2020 case for which he already had a protection against arrest from High Court. However, today at around 6.45pm we were told he has been arrested in some other FIR for which no notice was given which is mandatory under law for the Sections under which he has been arrested. Nor FIR copy is being given to us despite repeated requests," Sinha said in a tweeted statement.
Read the full report on his arrest here.