Press Freedom Group Urges India to Release Journalist

Published: 02 July 2022

India NewspapersPersecution of journalists in India continues. (Photo: PxHere, License)

By Haroon Janjua

Press freedom advocates have urged India to immediately release a prominent Muslim journalist and outspoken critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi over tweets for which authorities claim are promoting religious and ethnic division.

Mohammad Zubair, the cofounder of AltNews, a leading fact-checking website in India, was accused of insulting Hindu’s religious beliefs in a handful of Twitter posts made in 2018, Digipub, a  Body representing digital media organizations in India said.

“Journalist Zubair who routinely busted fake news and exposed the hate machinery in India has just been arrested,” Rana Ayyub, a renowned Muslim journalist in India said on Monday. “The country is punishing those who reported, documented the decline.”

By Tuesday he had been sentenced to four days in prison, galvanizing press freedom groups, opposition leaders and journalists.

The arrest 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,” Steven Butler, the Committee to Protect Journalists  Asia program coordinator, said in a statement.. “Authorities must immediately and unconditionally release Zubair, and allow him to pursue his journalistic work without further interference.”

Zubair, has more than half a million Twitter followers and was the first journalist to share a controversial TV debate clip this month in which the ruling party’s spokesperson, Nupur Sharma, made derogatory comments against the prophet Muhammad.

His tweet went viral, deepening India’s diplomatic crisis with the Islamic world and sparked strong protests from the Muslim minority in India.

The Modi government has distanced itself from Sharma’s statements and suspended her from the party on June 5.

Sharma claimed that she received death threats after suspension and blamed Zubair’s disclosure of the clip on Twitter for the threats. Zubair has also received death threats.

"Every person exposing BJP's hate, bigotry and lies is a threat to them. Arresting one voice of truth will only give rise to a thousand more,” Rahul Gandhi, India’s main opposition party leader, tweeted.

Modi and his BJP party have been repeatedly painted as Hindu-nationalists and criticized for inflaming religious tensions in the country, leading to discriminatory treatment of Muslims across the country.

Though it maintains a Hindu majority, with over 200 million Muslim citizens, India boast the third largest muslim population in the world.

Before his rise to the premiership, Modi was accused of negligence after bloody communal riots killed between 1,000 to 2,000 Muslims in the western state of Gujarat during his tenure as governor in 2002.