Indian police have arrested the co-founder of a fact-checking website and vocal critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu-nationalist government over a tweet from 2018 deemed to be insulting of Hindu religious beliefs.
Mohammed Zubair of Alt News was arrested yesterday in New Delhi and remanded for a day in police custody. According to media reports, Zubair was charged under two sections of federal law related to maintaining religious harmony: "doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony" and "deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class."
Delhi Police stated: "The said post of Mohd Zubair containing picture and words against a particular religious community are highly provocative and done deliberately which are more than sufficient to incite hatred among people which can be detrimental for maintenance of public tranquillity."
"Such tweets were getting retweeted and it appeared that there is a brigade of social media entities, who indulge in insult mongering thereby leading to a possible ramification on communal harmony and is overall against the maintenance of public tranquillity."
The incriminating tweet in question was brought to attention after a Twitter user claimed he had insulted Hindus by commenting on the renaming of a hotel after the Hindu monkey god Hanuman and tagged Delhi Police.
— Hanuman Bhakt (@balajikijaiin) June 19, 2022
Zubair's post implied that after Modi came to power in 2014, the hotel's owners changed the name to conform with the government's hardline Hindu sentiments.
According to the BBC, Zubair "is known to keep a hawk eye on hate speech and his Twitter posts on comments made by supporters of the BJP have invited intense backlash."
Last week, he posted an e-mail from Twitter informing him that his tweet criticising Islamophobic comments by the leader of a Hindu group was being "withheld" – meaning it was no longer visible in India – on request from the law enforcement authorities.
The letter added that this was "in order to comply with Twitter's obligations under India's local laws." He later received another e-mail saying that two of his other tweets – about provocative comments made by a Hindu priest threatening to kidnap and rape Muslim women – were also being "withheld in India" under the country's IT laws.
Reacting to Zubair's arrest, opposition Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted: "Every person exposing BJP's hate, bigotry and lies is a threat to them. Arresting one voice of truth will only give rise to a thousand more."
Zubair's arrest came amid Modi's government, along with G7 countries signing the "2022 Resilient Democracies Statement", in which they committed to "guarding the freedom, independence and diversity of civil society actors" and "protecting the freedom of expression and opinion online and offline".
— Tehseen Qasim (@Tehseenqasim) June 28, 2022
The left-leaning Indian Express newspaper, known for its criticism of the Modi government, featured both news stories side by side on its front page.
A statement issued after Modi attended the G-7 Summit in Germany stated: "We hail all courageous defenders of democratic systems that stand against oppression and violence, and will step up international cooperation to improve the resilience of democratic societies globally."