- This article will cover the arrest of Mohammed Zubair, co-founder of the fact-checking platform, Alt News.
- Zubair has been arrested for hurting religious sentiments in a tweet he posted in 2018.
- Zubair recently reported the highly contentious remarks made by former BJP leader, Nupur Sharma.
- His arrest has given rise to speculations of the BJP abusing its power to curb freedom of speech.
Recently, the co-founder of the fact-checking website, Alt News, Mohammed Zubair was arrested for allegedly hurting religious sentiments, based on a tweet he posted in 2018. Zubair's arrest has been quoted as “controversial” because it is not him versus the state, it is him versus BJP. This article will discuss the details of his arrest, the outrage that followed, and why is the tweet recieveing attention now.
Who is Mohammed Zubair
Mohammad Zubair along with engineer Pratik Sinha, founded the fact-checking website AltNews, in 2017 with the singular motive of combating false news. Zubair and Sinha, via their various social media platforms, put several political parties under scrutiny. They have been at crosshairs with the Bharatiya Janata Party and its “bhakts”, the relevance of which the article will further reveal. Zubair has debunked several snippets of information, misinformation, and bias that would shape public opinion if left unchecked
However, there have been instances of alt news circulating unverified/false information.
Why is He in The News
Mohammed Zubair was arrested for allegedly hurting religious sentiments, based on a tweet he posted in 2018. He has been booked under Section 153A nor Section 295A (discussed further in detail). His arrest was initiated by an anonymous Twitter account, with the pseudonym “Hanuman Bhakt”. The tweet that stirred this hornet's nest was a screenshot taken from a 1983 Hindi movie. The image is from a film sequence that shows a couple finding to their dismay that ‘Honeymoon Hotel’ had been revised to ‘Hanuman Hotel’. This unexpected twist implied that the hotel was not open to couples. The tone of the tweet and that of the movie were set to be sarcastic. People however have intercepted this message in a caustic manner. The offended claim that the tweet is an immoral insinuation against the deity.
Zubair was recently granted bail by SC.
However, this controversy runs deeper. The timing of Zubairs arrest is not a coincidence. This FIR against Zubair was registered recently after he highlighted comments made by suspended BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma on the Prophet earlier this month. Her comments about the prophet were concealed by most media houses, except Alt News. The government found itself in hot water and was put to a social trial, facing backlash from Indians as well as from a host of countries, including Qatar, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. The international condemnation put the BJP on a diplomatic row, with the country’s goodwill at stake. The Centre was thus, forced to distance itself from Sharma’s comments while the party had suspended her. Zubair’s arrest reflects the well-demonstrated antipathy to anyone, especially left-aligned media houses who seek to counter-majoritarian bigotry
Even earlier this month, an FIR was lodged in Uttar Pradesh against Zubair for allegedly hurting religious sentiments by calling Mahant Bajrang Muni ‘Udasin’, Yati Narsinghanand, and Swami Anand Swarup “hatemongers” on Twitter.
The FIR was lodged on a complaint from Bhagwan Sharan, who is the Sitapur unit chief of the Hindu Sher Sena.
Section 153A penalizes promoting enmity between different groups on the grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony. This section propounds that disruption of public tranquility on the above-mentioned grounds can attract a jail term of up to 3 years.
In contemporary times, the frivolous use (abuse, rather) of the section has made headlines, however, earlier this section was on the verge of deletion. The case of Tara Singh v. The State (1951) [ 1951 CriLJ 449] challenged this section saying that it was in contravention of Article 19(2). However, the First Amendment added the words “in the interest of public order” to uphold the constitutionality of the section.
Section 295A is an extension of section 153A by virtue of them protecting the same subjects. This section penalizes deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs. It further says that contravention of the section may invite a jail term of up to 3 years. Offenses under this section are non-bailable and non-compoundable. the distinction between the two is that the former deals with creating enmity between two groups and the latter lay down provisions for those who insult a group or religion.
History of Section 153A and 295A
Section 153A is a British-era law, and it was thus merely amended to fit the contemporary constitution after independence. On the other hand, the legislative history of Section 295A can be traced back to a publication in 1927. Back then, a book entitled “Rangeela Rasul” was published which divulged in detail the sexual and marital life of the prophet Mohammed. The book received severe backlash from the Muslim community. The author, M.A Chamupati was initially arrested, but later acquitted. However, upon being released from jail, he was killed by a man called Ilm-ud-Din, to exact revenge for the malevolent publication.
The followers of Islam, in light of the incident, demanded a law citing punishments for anyone who disrespects Islam. After realizing that there is an ardent need for religion-specific laws as religion being a sensitive issue can easily sow the seeds of hatred among communities, came Section 295A of the IPC with the Criminal Law Amendment Act,1927. While Freedom of speech is considered to be an indispensable right, these sections placed reasonable restrictions on the right. These laws prevent people from propagating abhorrence under the garb of freedom of expression.
However, these sections have been heavily politicized and thus, abused frivolously.
Netizens have condemned the arrest of Zubair, claiming it to be another exhibit of the center’s intolerance. The charges are arbitrary, and absurd and go to show that the center will grasp at straws if necessary, just to save face. Zubair's mere reportage of Sharma's remarks, something which has left the government scurrying to gain back the lost international respect, is the “crime” that he is guilty of.
The objective thus is initiating his prosecution for an alleged slur against the Hindu god Hanuman as a garb to embark on a lengthy spell of revenge by means of persecution.
Instead of protecting and upholding democratic values, the center is keen on wearing them, the citizen, however, won't let this go without a fight.