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DUJ Slams Arrest of Alt News Journalist Mohammad Zubair, Calls for his Immediate Release

The Delhi Union of Journalists noted that Zubair was arrested without having an opportunity to seek court protection and anticipatory bail.
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The Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ) on Wednesday said it was "deeply concerned" about the arrest of Alt News journalist Mohammad Zubair by the Delhi Police without due notice. 

Zubair, co-founder of the popular fact-checking website AltNews, was arrested on Monday on charges of promoting enmity among religious groups through a tweet put out by him in 2018. He had been remanded to one-day police custody by the duty magistrate and was then produced before Judge Sarvaria for further custody on Tuesday. The judge extended the journalist's custody by four days, the Bar and Bench reported.

"Zubair was called to Delhi from Ahmedabad, ostensibly for questioning in an earlier case in which the Supreme Court had granted him protection from arrest. However, he was arrested in a fresh case without giving him an opportunity to seek court protection and anticipatory bail," the DUJ statement said.

Noting that Zubair has a massive following of 572.7 thousand Twitter users, the DUJ said the journalist's popularity has unfortunately made him a target. 

The statement also mentioned that AltNews co-founder Prateek Sinha has said that the copy of the FIR was not furnished to Zubair at the time of the arrest despite repeated requests made in that regard. "This flouting of legal procedures is a cause for worry, given similar issues with the arrest of journalist and human rights defender Teesta Setalvad just days ago," the DUJ said.

The Gujarat Anti-Terrorist Squad last week arrested human rights activist and journalist Teesta Setalvad in connection with a case of forgery, criminal conspiracy and placing false evidence in court to frame innocent people in the 2002 Gujarat riots case. The action came a day after the Supreme Court dismissed Zakia Jafri's plea, in which Setalvad was co-petitioner, challenging the SIT's clean chit to the then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and others in cases related to the 2002 riots.

The arrested scribe was recently in the middle of controversy for highlighting BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma's comments about Prophet Mohammad. While "Sharma has been removed from the spokespersonship (of the Bharatiya Janata Party) and has gone underground, evading arrest" Zubair has been arrested for a four-year-old tweet, the statement underlined, contrasting the two incidents.

The journalists' association further said that given the arrest, it is ironical that the PM recently signed the 2022 Resilient Democracies Statement along with heads of G7 and other countries, pledging that these nations are committed to "guarding the freedom, independence and diversity of civil society actors" and "protecting the freedom of expression and opinion online and offline".

The DUJ added that "the Supreme Court and other courts too have repeatedly said that there should be no arrests for tweets or facebook and other social media posts. However, the list of those arrested for such posts is growing by the day." It underlined that "this is a serious cause for concern, particularly for journalists but equally for civil society."

Calling for the immediate release of both Zubair and Setalvad, the DUJ asked its members to be ready for protests at a short notice.

The Delhi court that extended the police remand of Zubair on Tuesday, reasoned that Zubair's argument that the allegedly offensive screenshot shared by him was from a 1983 movie would not be of assistance to the accused at this stage., the Bar and Bench reported.

Appearing for Zubair, advocate Vrinda Grover submitted:

"This image is available in many tweets. This image is from a film of Hrishikesh Mukherjee - Kissi Se Na Kehna. It stars Farukh Shaikh and Deepti Naval. In the film, it is a newly married couple and they go to the hotel. This image which is being shown as a reason for arresting somebody is from a Hindi cinema...Ye film ban nahi huyi thi. Sabne dekhi thi. (This film was not banned. Everyone watched it)."

An anonymous Twitter account had last year flagged the 2018 tweet of Zubair, which is the subject matter of the present case filed under Sections 153A (promoting enmity between religious groups) and 295 (injuring or defiling place of worship, with intent to insult the religion of any class) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), according to the Bar and Bench report.

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