JournalistMohammed Zubair, co-founder of the Alt News fact-checking portal, is back home and attending his cousin’s wedding in Bengaluru, after a 23-day stay in prisons and police custody in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, over several First Information Reports (FIR) filed against him in a matter of a week. He spoke to The Hindu’s K.V. Aditya Bharadwaj.
What do you think led to your arrest?
I had in fact anticipated my arrest. Pratik Sinha and I, at Alt News, for the work we do, always thought we could be arrested anytime. But after the video clip of former BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma’s comments on a television debate I posted on Twitter went viral and led to a diplomatic issue internationally, I knew it was coming. They did not hide it either. There were Twitter storms and trending hashtags calling for my arrest, blaming the messenger for whatever happened in the country.
Editorial | Welcome relief: On bail to Mohammed Zubair
What went through your mind during your stay in police custody and prisons?
Multiple police forces I was with, and the prison authorities, treated me with respect. But the cases they were filing against me scared me. After I was sent to Tihar Jail in the Delhi case, I was hopeful of bail. But in a matter of just a week, there were seven FIRs filed against me in Uttar Pradesh and a Special Investigation Team (SIT) formed to probe them. Knowing how U.P. Police SITs have functioned earlier, I lost hope and was preparing for a long stay in the prison for maybe a year or two. I feared I was being fixed in a larger conspiracy case. That’s why the Supreme Court judgement was overwhelming and I think it is a landmark verdict protecting the liberties of those being targeted by the regime.
Why do you think you were targeted?
This government wants to silence all voices of dissent and anyone who is holding them to account through fact checking, journalism and the likes, especially if they perceive you as being their critic. The role of my religion played no small role in it, I believe.
I think I was made an example of for others. The message was that the government, if it minds, can book 10-15 random FIRs in multiple states and keep you in jail for years, but for the Supreme Court in my case. The FIRs filed against me are so random and bizarre — two FIRs in Uttar Pradesh are for fact-checking a media channel — which is my job, and another for calling accused in a hate speech case hate mongers in a tweet.
When are you back to work?
I have submitted my mobile phone and SIM card to the police. I am waiting to buy a new phone and get a new SIM card and the first thing I will do is to be back on Twitter, calling out hate speech and fact-checking false claims. That is the only way to fight this. I hope no one else is cowed down and continues the good work. I will be back at Alt News in a week.