Zubair’s arrest reaffirms that fact-checkers and journalists are endangered in Modi regime

AltNews co-founder Muhammad Zubair had made it his business to step on right-wing toes, fact-checking them and their “theories” with a vengeance, clearly irking the ruling dispensation no end

Zubair’s arrest reaffirms that fact-checkers and journalists are endangered in Modi regime

Sushil Kutty

At last, the Delhi Police has gone and done the unpardonable. The capital’s constabulary, which answers to the Union Home Ministry, summoned AltNews co-founder Muhammad Zubair from Bengaluru to Delhi and on Monday, June 27, took him into custody in what looked like a sleight of the ham-handed.

If it was a non-BJP government at the Centre, the Delhi Police wouldn’t have carried out such an outrage, but these are not the best of days for the secular ecosystem. In the eight years of Modi rule, whosoever stepped on the toes of the right-wing, especially the BJP, ran the risk of getting hauled over the coals.

Muhammad Zubair, with his unusual zeal for fact-checking, sifting alleged fiction from alleged fact, had made it his business to step on right-wing toes, fact-checking them and their “theories” with a vengeance rarely seen in this age of information, misinformation and disinformation; post-truth, fake news, lies and outright lies.

Zubair, it is said, can smell fraudsters and the farcical from a mile away, and if most of them were right-wing, it’s not his fault! At least that is why his over 600,000 followers on Twitter admire him for.

The Delhi Police have been after Zubair for months; ever since he started fact checking Hindutva hardliners, like the ones who held the Haridwar and Raigad “dharma sansads”, in which calls were given for the genocide of Muslims. And Muhammad Zubair called out such ‘dharmatmas’ with a regularity which got their goat.

A couple of months ago, one such charlatan complained to police in Uttar Pradesh and Zubair himself was fact-checked!

Muhammad Zubair is often introduced as “journalist”. That could be because both journalists and fact-checkers dabble in facts. At least the journalist is supposed to. That said, the illiterate often confuse fact-checkers with journalists. Needless to say, the fact-checker is more honorable than the journalist.

Post his alleged unlawful arrest by Amit Shah’s police, some of India’s most-talked about journalists and top politicians have lined up in support of Muhammad Zubair. There cannot be greater honour for the tribe of verified and unverified journalists. Author and journalist Saba Naqvi has also been charged with hurting religious sentiments, and promoting enmity between communities. Her arrest could be just round the corner.

The fact is, journalists and fact-checkers are becoming endangered in Modi regime, more so after a couple of government-verified “fringe elements” of the BJP’s department of spokespersons found themselves in hot waters. Since then, Muhammad Zubair has been under scrutiny, primarily because he became very active on Twitter, not in his role of fact-checker, but as a Muslim whose religious sensibilities got hurt by the BJP spokesperson.

And, because Twitter is sans boundaries, some of his tweets highlighting Muslims in India got picked up and amplified globally. The infamy India received internationally was clearly got the establishment’s goat. And Muhammad Zubair got the stick. It looked like the Delhi Police were waiting for the clock to strike pick-up time.

Zubair has been booked under sections 295A and 153A, the same sections under which suspended BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma found herself charged with.

But while Sharma has been given police security against people who allegedly threatened her, and is in a safe-house someplace secret, Muhammad Zubair is in police remand, allegedly taken into custody without lodging an FIR.

Neither he, nor anybody in his team was given a copy of the FIR. Late night, Zubair was presented before a duty magistrate and remanded in police custody.

The police claims that Zubair tweeted an image and words that hurt the religious sentiments of a particular religious community. That’s his crime, which looked like monkey balancing. Muhammad Zubair could be paying in spades for calling out BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma; and landing the Modi Government in dire straits in and around the Persian Gulf with his tweets centred on the BJP spokesperson.

Most of all, in what cannot be a coincidence, Muhammad Zubair’s arrest comes on the heels of the arrest of human rights advocate Teesta Setalvad; and two days after the Supreme Court upheld the ‘clean chit’ given to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Zakia Jafri ‘larger conspiracy’ case. Both Teesta Setalvad and former Gujarat DGP RB Sreekumar are in the custody of the Gujarat ATS for “keeping the pot boiling”.

Muhammad Zubair has been charged with promoting enmity on religious grounds, and hurting religious sentiments, which is a non-bailable offence. His crime is that he tweeted once too many times, and he fact-checked once too far for the Modi government’s comfort.

(IPA Service)

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