Of the six cases the Uttar Pradesh Police is investigating against Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair, five are for his Twitter posts — where he either reported hate crime against Muslims, fact-checked television reports and other false information online, or called out television channels for hosting communal debates. The other FIR is a rioting case from June 10, where neither Mr. Zubair nor his work or social media is mentioned.
Earlier this week, the Uttar Pradesh police formed a Special Investigative Team (SIT) to probe these six cases. Mr. Zubair has already secured interim bail in one of these cases from the Supreme Court and has moved another plea in the top court seeking to quash all the UP cases against him or club them together and transfer them to Delhi.
The most recent of these cases was registered at the Kotwali police station in Hathras on July 4, on the complaint of one Deepak Sharma of the Rashtriya Swabhiman Dal, a Hindu right-wing outfit based in Hathras. Mr. Sharma alleged that the journalist likened Vatican City to the shape of a “shivling” and Lord Krishna to Christ “to make fun of Hindu gods”.
The tweet Mr. Sharma is referring to is from October 30, 2021, where Mr. Zubair was making fun of a right-wing Twitter user for making the above-mentioned claims - now being incorrectly attributed to the fact-checker himself. Mr. Sharma added that the journalist also allegedly made fun of Mahabharat characters by claiming they used advanced technology like laptops. This post too was part of a satire thread posted in April 2018, in a bid to highlight such claims made by Hindu seers and BJP leaders on record.
The tweets Mr. Sharma referred to in his complaint had been compiled in a single thread and posted on Twitter on June 13 by a user known as @thehawkeyex as part of a right-wing social media campaign to get Mr. Zubair arrested for highlighting ex-BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma’s remarks against Prophet Muhammad on a television debate. Mr. Sharma said he filed the complaint on June 14.
In addition, Mr. Sharma alleges that Mr. Zubair had “edited” the news channel debate video where Ms. Sharma made the remarks. This FIR has been registered under Sections 153A, 295A, 298 of the IPC and Section 67 of the IT Act.
The FIR that preceded this was registered at the Sikandra Rao police station of Hathras district on June 10 in reaction to one of the country-wide protests against Ms. Sharma’s Prophet remarks. The FIR names 35 accused, 100 other unknown accused and details how alleged rioting took place on June 10 after the Friday namaz.
Nowhere in the FIR, registered by the police suo motu, does it mention Mr. Zubair’s name, his work or his social media activity. The case has been registered under Sections 147, 149, 153A, 353, 188, 120B of the IPC and Section 7 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act.
FIRs for fact-checks, hate crime reports
Two of the cases against Mr. Zubair - one at Muzaffarnagar’s Charthawal police station and another at Lakhimpur Kheri’s Mohammadi police station - are for the same post in 2021 that fact-checked Hindi television channel Sudarshan TV’s misreporting of Israel’s air strikes in the Gaza strip.
The Charthawal FIR was registered in July 2021 on the complaint of Ankur Rana, who claimed Mr. Zubair’s fact-check was incorrect and alleged that he had threatened him when confronted with this. This case has been registered under Sections 192, 504, 506 of the IPC.
The Mohammadi FIR was registered in September 2021 for the same fact-check but after a local court ordered it based on a complaint of a journalist working for Sudarshan TV. This case was under Section 153A of the IPC.
In the fact-check, Mr. Zubair had revealed that the said channel had superimposed an image of a famous Medina mosque on an image of the Gaza strip to incorrectly show it was being destroyed in purported Israeli air-strikes.
In addition to this, there is an FIR registered against Mr. Zubair at the Loni border police station in Ghaziabad (June 15, 2021), for reporting the abduction and assault of an elderly Muslim man, who alleged his attackers forced him to chant “Jai Siya Ram” and forcibly chopped off his beard. While the police have admitted that some “mischievous Hindu persons” were involved in this assault, they have alleged in the FIR that Mr. Zubair and other journalists “intentionally misreported” the incident “suggesting the existence of a criminal conspiracy”.
Along with Mr. Zubair, journalists Rana Ayyub, Saba Naqvi, news portal The Wire, and Twitter India have been named as some of the accused in this case, registered under Sections 153, 153A, 295A, 505, 120B and 34 of the IPC.
The sixth case U.P. police are investigating Mr. Zubair for, was registered on June 1 this year, at the Khairabad police station in Sitapur. This was for a tweet earlier this year, which was meant to be a commentary on the communal debates hosted by certain television channels. In this tweet, Mr. Zubair had referred to Hindu seers Bajrang Muni, Yati Narsinghanad and Anand Swaropp as “hatemongers”.
All three Hindu seers have been booked by various state police departments in cases of hate speech against Muslims.
For calling them “hatemongers”, Mr. Zubair has been booked under Section 295A of IPC and Section 67 of the IT Act.