New Delhi: Alt News co-founder and fact-checker Mohammed Zubair was called in for questioning at around 2 pm Monday, after the cyber unit of the Delhi Police Special Cell served him a notice Friday in connection with a 2020 case, it is learnt.
However, during the questioning, an investigating officer served him another notice at around 3.20 pm under Section 41A of the CrPC, asking him to join the investigation in a different case pertaining to a 2018 tweet, according to sources in the Delhi Police.
He was arrested hours later for allegedly hurting religious sentiments through the 2018 tweet referring to a Hindu mythological figure, they added.
This is how Zubair was “tricked” into being arrested, his lawyers have alleged.
ThePrint reached K.P.S. Malhotra, deputy commissioner of police (DCP), Intelligence Fusion and Strategic Operations (IFSO) unit of the Special Cell, via messages for a comment on the lawyers’ claim, to which a response is awaited.
The DCP had Monday said: “Zubair was called for questioning in the 2020 case. The Delhi Police had filed a status report and his tweet wasn’t found to be objectionable. However, tweets that were sequenced after this tweet were questionable and derogatory. The investigation in this case is on the verge of conclusion.”
In the 2020 case, the Delhi Police had booked Zubair under sections of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, on the basis of a complaint filed by National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) chairperson Priyank Kanoongo.
Kanoongo’s complaint pertained to a tweet allegedly posted by Zubair on 6 August 2020, which had the blurred image of a minor girl, during an online spat with her father. However, in September that year, the Delhi High Court restrained the police from taking action against Zubair in that case.
The present case, under which he was arrested Monday, is related to a 2018 tweet. Police sources said the complainant, who goes by the name ‘Hanuman Bhakt’ on Twitter, tagged the Delhi Police on the tweet on 19 June and an FIR was registered on 20 June.
On Tuesday, the Editors Guild of India condemned Zubair’s arrest and demanded his immediate release.
The Editors Guild of India condemns the arrest of Muhammad Zubair, co-founder of the fact checking site AltNews, by the Delhi Police on June 27, for a tweet from 2018. EGI demands that the Delhi Police should immediately release Muhammad Zubair. pic.twitter.com/q9uYqFxaPA
— Editors Guild of India (@IndEditorsGuild) June 28, 2022
Zubair, who had highlighted former BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma’s controversial remark on Prophet Muhammad, had deactivated his Facebook account earlier this month after some old posts invited backlash.
Zubair’s legal counsel has claimed that he was “tricked” by the police into appearing before them Monday and then “vindictively” arrested in a separate case.
“He was called in for questioning in the 2020 case, where he already has protection from arrest from the high court. The case is pending, and at the final hearing stage. They called him for that case but around 5 pm, he was served notice for the other FIR, based on which he was arrested,” Zubair’s Delhi-based advocate Kawalpreet Kaur told ThePrint.
“The FIR was registered on 20 June but since the past one week, Zubair wasn’t informed about it. The intention is clear that they wanted him to come to the office and vindictively he was arrested in the other case. Zubair had already written to the police stating that Monday might not be feasible to appear before them as his father-in-law isn’t well. However the police insisted that the other person is also coming and that it is a very sensitive case,” Kaur further said.
Zubair was then advised to appear before them for questioning, she said, adding that the “entire thing was orchestrated to arrest Zubair”.
According to a source in the Delhi Police, Zubair reached the cyber cell unit around 2 pm and the questioning started soon after. “However, after serving him notice in the present case, he wasn’t cooperating in the investigation. He was arrested around 5.45 pm.”
Kaur also claimed that Zubair was not served notice at around 3 pm. “He was served the notice at 5.30 pm and arrested minutes later,” she claimed.
On Monday, DCP Malhotra had told mediapersons: “Delhi Police registered a case after getting a complaint from a Twitter handle, wherein it was alleged that Mohammed Zubair had tweeted a questionable image with a purpose to deliberately insult the god of a particular religion.”
The DCP further said that Zubair was not cooperative and was “evasive” when questioned.
The tweet & the complaint
The tweet in question purportedly carries the image of a hotel signboard being repainted to read ‘Hanuman hotel’ instead of ‘Honeymoon hotel’.
A Twitter handle by the name of ‘Hanuman Bhakt’ then tagged the Delhi Police on the tweet, saying: “Linking our God Hanumanji with Honeymoon is a direct insult to Hindus because he is brahmachari. Kindly take action (sic).”
Zubair was booked under IPC sections 153A (promoting enmity) and 295A (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings) of the IPC. On Monday night, the duty magistrate granted the Delhi Police day-long custody of the Alt News co-founder.
The Twitter handle ‘Hanuman Bhakt’, which has an image of Hindu god Hanuman as its display photo, had garnered over 1,300 followers by Tuesday afternoon.
Some social media users have alleged that the account is a bot or a troll account. Asked about the veracity of the account, DCP Malhotra told ThePrint: “The question is not about that account.”
What the FIR says
According to the FIR lodged against Zubair over the 2018 tweet — which has been accessed by ThePrint — the complaint was filed by a sub-inspector by the name of Arun Kumar.
“Today, I was present in IFSO unit of Delhi Police, Dwarka as an emergency officer, and during social media monitoring, it came to notice that a Twitter handle Hanuman Bhakt shared a tweet against another Twitter handle in the name of Mohammed Zubair @zoo_bear in which it has been tweeted by Mohammed Zubair ‘Before 2014: Honeymoon hotel, After 2014: Hanuman Hote and has shown a picture of a sign board of one hotel, “honeymoon hotel changed to Hanuman hotel (sic),” the FIR read.
“These words and the picture found to be used by Mohammed Zubair @zoo_bear against a particular religious community are highly provocative and more than sufficient to incite feelings of hatred amongst people which can be detrimental for maintenance of public tranquility in the society.”
“Transmission and publication of such posts has been deliberately done Mohammed Zubair @zoo_bear through electronic media to insult the religious feelings of a particular community with intent to provoke breach of peace which attracts offence under Section 153-A and 295. From the contents of the post from Twitter handle Mohammed Zubair @zoo_bear, offence 153-A and 295 is made out (sic),” the complaint read.
The complainant further stated that the FIR is “sensitive in nature”.
Called for ‘confrontation’
A police source said that Zubair had been called for investigation in the 2020 case, along with another person from Lucknow, but the latter didn’t turn up.
“We had called both of them for a confrontation, to know if Zubair and the other person know each other personally because after Zubair’s tweet, there were many subsequent tweets and the other person’s tweet garnered a lot of attention,” the source added.
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)