Fact-checking website Alt News co-founder Mohammad Zubair was arrested by the Delhi Police on Monday for allegedly hurting religious sentiments through one of his tweets, officials said.
Earlier this month, a case against Zubair was registered 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, K P S Malhotra, Deputy Commissioner of Police (Cyber Cell), said.
Zubair was produced before a magistrate, who sent him to police custody for a day.
Opposition leaders, including former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, slammed Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government over Zubair's arrest.
The Alt News co-founder was arrested in connection with one of his recent tweets that had a questionable image with a purpose to deliberately insult the god of a particular religion, the DCP said.
Police said the case was registered on the complaint of a Twitter user who accused Zubair of hurting religious sentiments.
Alt News co-founder Pratik Sinha alleged that Zubair was arrested in a case for which no notice was given by the police, which is mandatory under law for the sections under which he has been held.
"Zubair was called today by Special Cell, Delhi for investigation in a 2020 case for which he already had a protection against arrest from high court. However, today at around 6.45 pm, we were told he has been arrested in some other FIR for which no notice was given which is mandatory under law for the section under which he has been arrested.
"Nor FIR copy is being given to us despite repeated requests," Sinha said in a statement posted on Twitter.
In another tweet, he alleged that after the medical examination, Zubair was taken to an undisclosed location.
"...Neither Zubair's lawyers or I are being told where. We are in the police van with him. No police person is wearing any name tag," Sinha alleged.
Police in a statement said Zubair was "evasive" on their questions and neither provided the "necessary technical equipment" for the purpose of the investigation nor cooperated in the case.
"During investigation, the conduct of Mohammed Zubair was found questionable, which warranted his custodial interrogation to unravel the conspiracy in this matter. Accordingly, he has been arrested," the statement said.
According to the officials, Zubair's tweets were getting re-tweeted and it appeared that there was a brigade of social media entities who indulged in hate mongering, thereby leading to a possible ramification on communal harmony and which was against the maintenance of public tranquillity.
On Monday, Zubair joined the probe in a case registered against him in connection with another tweet in 2020.
During the investigation of the case, the Delhi Police had given a status report, in which that tweet was not found to be objectionable.
But his subsequent tweets were found to be questionable and derogatory, the police said, adding that in the investigation of FIR number 194/20, Zubair was examined earlier and the probe is about to be concluded.
"In June 2022, when Delhi Police was alerted by a Twitter handle that Mohammad Zubair had made an objectionable tweet earlier and his followers/social media entities had amplified and created a series of debates/hate mongering in the thread, he was examined in the case registered earlier this month and his role was found objectionable," the statement said.
Opposition leaders slammed the Centre over Zubair's arrest
"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. Truth ALWAYS triumphs over tyranny. #DaroMat," Gandhi said in a tweet.
Trinamool Congress leader Derek O'Brien also condemned the journalist's arrest.
"Strongly condemn the arrest of one of the world's finest journalists @zoo_bear who exposes the BJP's #FakeNews factory every single day. PM @narendramodi and @AmitShah for all the power you wield, you are essentially COWARDS," the Rajya Sabha MP wrote on Twitter.
TMC's Lok Sabha MP Mahua Moitra, in a tweet, said: "Delhi Police bending over backwards to please sahibs and thumb nose at law. @zoo_bear arrested on trumped up case w/o notice while assisting in case where HC given him protection.
"While Ms. Fringe Sharma enjoys life of protection at tax payer expense for EXACT same offences."
Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Manoj Jha alleged that delivering hate speeches is not a crime but reporting and exposing such speeches are criminal activities and that is why Zubair has been arrested.
"...And Irony dies hundred deaths...The great LEADER invokes #Emergency in the land of #ThirdReich and allows dissent in any form to be killed at home," Jha said in a tweet.
The Telangana Rashtra Samithi also condemned Zubair's arrest.
In a tweet, Y Sathish Reddy, the social media convenor of the TRS, said: "I strongly condemn the arrest of @zoo_bear! #IStandWithZubair."
All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen leader Asaduddin Owaisi said Zubair's arrest is highly condemnable, alleging that the Alt News co-founder was arrested without any notice and in some unknown FIR.
"Total violation of due process," he alleged.