Home Lead Story ‘Zubair’s arrest is to scare other marginalised journalists’: Muslim reporters

‘Zubair’s arrest is to scare other marginalised journalists’: Muslim reporters

File photo of Mohammad Zubair. | Photo: Twitter

Several journalists pointed out that journalist and fact-checker Mohammad Zubair’s arrest is part of the ongoing targeting of India’s Muslims. 

Nikita Jain | TwoCircles.net 

NEW DELHI — The arrest of journalist and fact-checker Mohammed Zubair by Delhi police on June 27 under the charges of ‘hurting religious sentiments’ has raised questions over the targeting of journalists belonging to the minority Muslim community. 

Many have pointed out that Zubair’s arrest is part of the ongoing targeting of India’s Muslims and other minorities. 

38-year-old Zubair is the co-founder of AltNews, a fact-check news organisation started in 2017 by former software engineers Pratik Sinha and Zubair.

Zubair was arrested by the Delhi police in connection with a tweet of his from 2018. 

While the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) based in Washington D.C. called Zubair’s arrest “another low for press freedom in India,” his arrest has raised pressing questions about the persecution of Muslim journalists in India and how his identity played a role in his arrest. 

Zakir Ali Tyagi, an independent journalist from Uttar Pradesh, told TwoCircles.net that “Their identity is the reason why they (Muslim journalists) are attacked.” 

“Journalists are being targeted based on their identity. This persecution based on identity has increased two-fold since 2014. ,” said Tyagi, who faced sedition charges in Uttar Pradesh in 2017 for allegedly joking about the criminal record of then newly appointed chief minister Yogi Adityanath in one of his Facebook posts. Booked under the Information Technology Act, Tyagi spent 42 days in jail.

Speaking about his 2017 case, for which he has to attend hearings, Tyagi said anyone trying to raise their voice against the ill-doings of the government will be arrested, especially those belonging to the Muslim community.

Tyagi pointed out the case of Siddiquie Kappan, who has been in jail for more than a year, facing charges that include sedition, conspiracy to incite violence, outraging religious feelings and sundry terrorism charges. Kappan was arrested while on his way to cover Hathras’s rape incident. 

Meer Faisal, a journalist with Maktoob Media who was booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) last year, told TwoCircles.net that Zubair’s identity was the main reason why he was being persecuted.

“There are other journalists who are also doing good work, but Zubair’s level is different. He is also being targeted because he is a Muslim. This fact of being Muslim will also affect him. Whether people believe it or not, this is the truth,” Faisal said. 

Faisal was booked under UAPA by Tripura Police for tweeting about the violence in the state last year. 

“Twitter has become a platform where it has become easy to highlight major issues. I was slapped with UAPA and Delhi Police also filed an FIR against me. All this happened because I highlighted some issues through Twitter,” he said. 

Kaushik Raj, an independent journalist, who has been covering hate speech against minorities in the country, called Zubair’s arrest a “dangerous time for journalism”.

Agreeing that Zubair’s identity played a major role in his arrest, Raj said that his arrest has become a dangerous precedent for journalists who are exposing the hate spread by the state. “Zubair’s arrest means anyone can be arrested now for merely doing their job. No one is safe now.” 

Raj said that Zubair’s arrest has left many journalists in peril. 

“Zubair is a news studio in itself. If he breaks a news story, it will become the biggest news in the evening. For the right-wing, silencing a voice like him was very important,” he said. 

Raj alleged that a proper mechanism is used to target those who have been exposing hate speech and violence on social media. 

“The social media’s external machinery first marks you, which happened with Zubair after he brought the Nupur Sharma controversy. Then they started bringing out his old tweets claiming that he has insulted Hindu gods. This is a pattern and full machinery at work,” he added.

Faisal said that young journalists are being targeted for using social media to inform people about issues that are being ignored by the mainstream. “They are trying to scare off the journalists and these people want to set Zubair as an example,” he said. 

Tyagi is of the view that the criminalisation of journalists should stop. 

“If there is any journalist who spreads lies, they should be punished legally and not be slapped with fake cases. There should be no criminalisation of journalists based on that,” Tyagi said.

Nikita Jain is an independent journalist based in New Delhi. She tweets at @nikita_jain15