‘Based On Political Plans’: Alt News Founder Pratik Sinha on FIRs

“They try to instill fear. That is not happening,” says Sinha to The Quint on FIRs against co-founder, Zubair.

4 min read
Speaking to The Quint, Sinha said that Zubair was being targeted for the work that he did as a fact-checker at AltNews that, over its three years of existence, has debunked many fake claims and narratives that were peddled by various powerful dispensations.

"We were unfortunately not given a chance to respond at the level of the commission so we will be going to the courts to ensure that this injustice, this misuse of legal apparatus, doesn’t go on further," said AltNews founder Pratik Sinha, responding to two FIRs that have named a co-founder of the organisation Mohammed Zubair.

Zubair, along with two others, were booked under the IT Act and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) in Delhi and Raipur due to the allegation of threatening a minor through Twitter.

On Wednesday, 9 September, the Delhi High Court granted interim protection from arrest to Zubair, who had moved the court seeking a quashing of these FIRs.

Speaking to The Quint, Sinha said that Zubair was being targeted for the work he did as a fact-checker at AltNews that, over its three years of existence, has debunked many fake claims and narratives that were peddled by various powerful dispensations.

'There Is No Case At All'

The FIRs against Zubair were filed after a complaint by the National Commission of Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR).

The complaint is based on a Tweet shared by Zubair on 6 August 2020, in which he was responding to an abusive message from one Twitter user, who tweets with the handle of @JSINGH2252.

Responding to the abusive tweet, Zubair had posted a picture of @JSINGH2252’s profile photo, while blurring the picture of a girl included in it.

“Hello Jagdish Singh...Does your cute grand daughter know about your part time job of abusing people on social media? I suggest you to change your profile pic,” Zubair had tweeted.

It is because of the nature of the interaction that Sinha questions the use of the POCSO Act in the FIR.

“They are charging Zubair under POCSO which is sexual offence against children. Zubair had, firstly, not made any remark directed at the child. His comment was aimed at the child’s guardian asking him how he can make such distasteful remarks when he has a child’s picture on his profile,” said Sinha

"It is not a valid case at all. They mentioned doxxing ie publishing private information. There was no private information that was published. The picture that Zubair posted was the person’s profile picture at the time of tweeting. Second, they mentioned stalking. There’s exactly one tweet addressed to this person by Zubair, that too in response to an abuse, but there are several abusive tweets addressed from Jagdish Singh (@JSINGH2252) to Zubair – so who’s stalking whom, really? Thirdly, there was absolutely no remark against the child. The picture was also blurred,” he explains.

'The Process Is The Punishment'

Sinha says that in the three and a half years that he has been running Alt News, they have not had a direct run-in with the government.

"We have had defamation notices by private parties, like media organisations we’ve exposed, but none of those led to a court case. It ended at the level of the notice. This is for the first time that we feel there’s a direct action on the basis of political plans,” he says.

“A statutory body is clearly misreading the laws and targeting Zubair. This is a clear attempt at trying to slow us down. That is the strategy that the government has adopted – to file multiple cases against media organisations. In multiple cases they are trying to use the process as the punishment. Whether the case ends in the court of law or not, for example, in Zubair’s case an absolutely absurd charge has been made in his name.”
Pratik Sinha to The Quint

He also recognises, however, that in the present political climate, rules for journalists and social activists are not the same as those for everyone else.

"This is the first time that we have seen the government going against us. And on a case that is trumped up. This means that the government is always on the lookout to do these things. So, we have to be very, very careful. We have been careful about the things we say on social media. My thumb rule is – Would I write something in an Alt News article? If yes, only then I put it on Twitter,” he says.

Speaking to other such smaller, independent news organisations that have or may be politically targeted, he says "know that your public communication can be twisted".

'No Doubt Zubair Is A Vocal Muslim Voice'

The FIRs against Zubair have also had many on social media questioning whether he's being targeted for his Muslim identity.

Reacting to these comments, Sinha says that while he can't be "100 percent sure" that Zubair was targeted for being Muslim, there has been such a precedent set in the country.

“There’s no doubt that Zubair is a vocal Muslim voice. His work is known and he’s an integral part of Alt News. Beyond his work also he has his own identity on social media. While I can’t, with 100 percent surety, say that this happened because of his religion, such things have happened in the past. Kafeel Khan, Umar Khalid, Rana Ayyub…there are multiple instances of people being targeted because of their identity. There’s no way for me to be sure but examples in the past have shown that vocal Muslim voices speaking against the prevailing narrative have been targeted.”
Pratik Sinha to The Quint

When asked about the road ahead in terms of the case, Sinha says that they "have no choice" but to fight this out in court. With three members of their small team engaged in damage-control, productivity of the organisation will suffer.

"We are a very small team. Me, my mother (director, Nirjhari Sinha), and Zubair are all involved in the case because we have to stand by Zubair. He is being targeted for his work. It takes away a lot of your productive time. But they are hoping that they will instill a fear. That is not happening", he concludes.

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