Delhi Police probe Alt News co-founder Zubair’s bank account

Mohammed Zubair, wearing cap, sits in a police vehicle after being produced in a court in New Delhi on Tuesday, June 28, 2022.

Mohammed Zubair, wearing cap, sits in a police vehicle after being produced in a court in New Delhi on Tuesday, June 28, 2022. | Photo Credit: AP

A day after Mohammed Zubair, co-founder of fact-checking website Alt News, was arrested over an “objectionable tweet” he posted in 2018 allegedly against a particular religion, the Delhi Police on Tuesday said they were continuing their investigation into the case and were now also looking into the source of funding received by him.

K.P.S. Malhotra, Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), Intelligence Fusion and Strategic Operations, Special Cell, said, “Around ₹50 lakh was transferred to Zubair’s bank account in a span of three months. We are ascertaining whether or not the money was transferred through different bank accounts or whether there is a pattern of repetitive bank accounts to ascertain if there was any kind of sponsoring — if there is one bank account, sending money regularly.”

‘Absolute lie’

Alt News co-founder Pratik Sinha took to Twitter and said this was an “absolute lie”. He said the police were linking donations received by Alt News to Zubair.

All the money that Alt News received went to the bank account of the organisation and not that of any individual, Mr. Sinha said. “The bank statement of Zubair’s personal account of which I have a copy debunks this falsehood,” he tweeted in response to the claims made by the Delhi Police.

A senior police officer said, “We usually check bank accounts whenever we are checking an individual in a case, it is a part of the probe. We have sought details from the concerned bank today (Tuesday).”

The police stumbled upon this line of questioning while they were interrogating Mr. Zubair about the functioning of Alt News.

Mr. Zubair said the organisation functioned only on donations received from the public, which were sought at regular intervals through social media, the officer said.

“During the interrogation, he told us that he has a team of five or six persons whose job is to fact check claims and statements made by leaders, Ministers, Prime Minister, political parties, and based on government records, they debunk these claims. With a follower base of around four lakh persons, Zubair said, the team’s only objective is to provide truth and not mislead the public,” the officer added.

The officer said that Mr. Zubair had first told them that the phone used for the 2018 tweet had been reported stolen. “Later he said he left it at home. It is clear that he is changing his statements, hence we will interrogate him further,” the officer added.

The police said that while Mr. Zubair had submitted the phone he was currently using, he only admitted to having used a different phone in 2018 after officials checked the IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) number and confronted him with it.

The officer said that in certain cases they checked the gadget used to publish such tweets and probed the intent. During the questioning, Mr. Zubair was evasive on both fronts, the officer said.

The police said the phone submitted to them by Mr. Zubair during his questioning did not have any material and that it would now be sent to the National Cyber Forensic Laboratory to check if it was formatted or its content deleted.

In case it was formatted, the data was beyond retrieval but if deleted, they can be tracked through hidden detectors, the officer explained. The police said the mobile applications were “cleared” from the phone.

The Delhi Police had sought extension of Mr. Zubair’s custodial interrogation by five more days since he had been asked to go to Bengaluru for the recovery of his laptop and mobile phone which will be seized to probe the case further, an officer confirmed.

The Patiala High Court, however, granted custody for four more days. Police teams have been despatched to Bengaluru, Mr. Zubair’s hometown, for the recovery of the devices.

‘Similar pattern’

The police said they had recovered five or six more retweets from the archive, and all of them had a similar pattern —they were about a certain religion. “We have questioned him regarding the same. There was a case filed against him by a mahant in Sitapur in Uttar Pradesh regarding similar tweets that incited hate against a certain community, we are interrogating that as well.”

Earlier on Tuesday, DCP Malhotra said, “If a person is booked in several cases, it is the police’s right to question them in all. Judiciary is involved, custody is given, bail wasn’t granted, there must be some substance to the case, just calling a certain case ‘politically motivated’ doesn’t stand right.”

He said that the tweet they were investigating had led to a “Twitter storm with hate speeches, detrimental to communal harmony”.

Adding that if someone endorsed a view on social media, it became his or her view, the DCP said, “If a person retweets a certain view and then says ‘they don’t know’, doesn’t stand in such situations, because the responsibility is theirs, since time does not matter, you only have to re-tweet and it becomes new. In the said case, the police took action on the basis of when the matter came to our cognisance.”

According to the Delhi Police, a first information report (FIR) was registered on June 20 over a notice that was issued to them that a Twitter handle namely @balajikijaiiin shared a tweet against another Twitter handle in the name of Mohammed Zubair @zoo_bear in which had retweeted the ‘objectionable’ tweet.

According to the FIR, the words and picture were found to be used by Mr. Zubair “against a particular religious community and they were highly provocative, and more than sufficient to incite feeling of hatred amongst people which can be detrimental for maintenance of public tranquillity in the society”.

The FIR further said that the transmission and publication of such posts had been deliberately done by Mr. Zubair through electronic media to insult the religious feelings of a particular community with the intent to provoke breach of peace.

Mr. Zubair has been charged under Sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, language etc.) and 295A (deliberate and malicious act intended to outrage religious feelings) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the DCP said.

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Printable version | Aug 15, 2022 11:53:53 am |