India World

Indian police arrest vocal critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government

Police in India have arrested the co-founder of a fact-checking website who has been a vocal critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.

Mohammed Zubair of AltNews has been accused of insulting Hindu religious beliefs on Twitter, a network of media organisations said.

Opposition leaders and journalists have condemned the arrest.

They said it was a clear attempt to clamp down on those who expose hate speech.

Mr Zubair recently highlighted comments by a spokesperson of the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad during a television debate. His tweet was widely shared and led to several Muslim countries lodging strong protests with India.

In recent weeks, government supporters have drawn attention to past comments made by Mr Zubair and demanded that he be prosecuted for hurting their religious feelings.

Police said at the centre of the arrest was a 2018 tweet by Mr Zubair in which he had shared a photo of a hotel signboard, modified from ‘Honeymoon Hotel’ to ‘Hanuman Hotel’.

The photo was actually a screengrab from a 1983 Bollywood comedy.

An anonymous account created last October, had just one follower until Tuesday morning shared the four-year-old tweet and called it a “direct insult” to Hindus.

The account also tagged the Delhi police, asking them to take “immediate action” against Mr Zubair.

Police claim their investigation found Mr Zubair’s conduct “questionable” which “warranted his custodial interrogation”.

Mr Zubair was produced before a local magistrate late Monday night who granted the police one day’s custody.

Many journalists and activists have been demanding his immediate release.

“Zubair who routinely busted fake news, exposed the hate machinery in India has just been arrested,” said Rana Ayyub, a journalist. “The country is punishing those who reported, documented the decline.”

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.”