Over 100 citizens in an open letter demanded the immediate release of Alt News co-founder and fact-checker Mohammed Zubair.
The letter included signatures of writer and human rights activist Aakar Patel, independent journalist Ajit Sahi, Arjun Sheoran of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Kavita Krishnan of the All India Progressive Women’s Association, Natasha Bhadwar of Karwan-e-Mohabbat and Dalit women’s activist Priyanka.
The letter stated that it was part of Zubair’s job as a fact-checker to verify news across social media posting political news.
“We believe that Mr Zubair is being targeted maliciously for performing the role which a media person is expected to perform, namely scrupulous fact-checking as well as exposing fake news and political disinformation,” the letter said.
Referring to Zubair’s tweet dated 2018 that ultimately led to his arrest, the letter said that the seizing of his laptop and phone is illegal and can result in tampering with evidence.
“Apart from violating his fundamental right to privacy, his journalistic integrity and confidentiality of the information and sources, we apprehend that the police may tamper with the seized material and build a false conspiracy to implicate him and other members of civil society, as was done with some of the Bhima Koregaon accused by planting material on their laptops,” the letter said.
Mentioning the anonymous Twitter handle @balajikijaiin by the name of Hanuman Bhakt, the letter questioned the credibility of the account. At present, the account stays deleted.
“It is also suspicious that the account that came into being on October 2021, had only one follower, and this complaint was his first tweet, although in court during Mr Zubair’s remand hearing on Tuesday, the police had submitted that the person running the Twitter account was ‘not anonymous’,” the letter said.
The letter stated that when Zubair was arrested his lawyers were not provided with a copy of the FIR even after repeated requests.
“The FIR was handed to the lawyers only after Zubair was taken into police custody, a gross violation of the D.K. Basu guidelines of Arrest and Detention issued by the Supreme Court of India,” the letter stated.
The letter demanded all charges against Zubair should be dropped and he is released with immediate effect.
Taking a dig at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s G7 summit where he pledged to safeguard freedom of speech, both online and offline, the letter termed Zubair’s arrest ‘ironic’.
“It is ironical that on the same day as Mr Zubair’s arrest, India, along with G7 countries, signed the ‘2022 Resilient Democracies Statement’, wherein the Indian government committed to ‘guarding the freedom, independence and diversity of civil society actors’ and ‘protecting the freedom of expression and opinion online and offline,” the letter concluded.