Alert: Afghanistan one year on: open season on the defence of human rights
India
12.07.22
Urgent Interventions

India: Arbitrary detention of journalist and rights defender Mohammad Zubair

URGENT APPEAL - THE OBSERVATORY

IND 005 / 0722 / OBS 060
Arbitrary detention /
Judicial harassment
India
July 12, 2022

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH, requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in India.

Description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed about the arbitrary detention and judicial harassment of Mr. Mohammad Zubair, prominent journalist, human rights defender, and co-founder of Alt News, an independent news outlet known for exposing fake news and political disinformation. Mr. Zubair and Alt News have exposed and countered hate speech as well as online and offline propaganda against Muslim minorities and other marginalised communities in India, including disinformation spread by senior officials of the ruling party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

On June 27, 2022, the Delhi police arbitrarily arrested Mohammad Zubair in relation to a message he posted on Twitter in 2018. The tweet was retweeted on June 19, 2022 by an anonymous Twitter handle which tagged the Delhi police and urged them to take action against Mr. Zubair for allegedly “hurting religious sentiment”. The Delhi Police Special Cell filed a First Information Report (FIR) numbered 0172/22 against him based on this retweet under Sections 153(a) and 295(a) of the Indian Penal Code ("promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence” and “deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religious beliefs”, respectively). The above-mentioned Twitter handle was created in October 2021 and had one follower at the time of retweeting Mr. Zubair’s tweet, which was the first message posted on this account, which suggests this handle was created for the sole purpose of targeting Mr. Zubair.

On the day of his arrest, Mohammad Zubair had been summoned by the Delhi police in relation to another FIR filed against him in 2020, in which he was protected from arrest by the Delhi High Court[1], under the pretext of questioning him. The Delhi police took this opportunity to arrest Mr. Zubair in FIR 0172/22. He was subsequently taken to an undisclosed location by policemen wearing no name tags. At around 10pm, Mr. Zubair was produced before a magistrate at his residence in Burari, New Delhi, who ordered police custody for one day. Only then Mohammad Zubair’s lawyers were given a copy of FIR 0172/22 filed against him. On June 28, 2022 he was remanded in police custody for an additional four days.

On July 2, 2022, the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate of the Patiala House Court remanded Mohammad Zubair in judicial custody for 14 more days. Earlier on the same day, and before the court issued the order, the Delhi Police’s Deputy Commissioner had informed the media that Mohammad Zubair had been remanded to 14 days of judicial custody in Tihar Jail, New Delhi.

On the same day, the Delhi police added new charges to FIR 0172/22 under Sections 120B and 201 of the Indian Penal Code (“criminal conspiracy” and “causing disappearance of evidence of offence”, respectively) and Section 35 of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act - FCRA (“imprisonment for a term of up to five years for contravention of any provision of the FCRA”).

On July 4, 2022, Mohammad Zubair was taken to Sitapur District, Uttar Pradesh State, by the Delhi police and produced before the Sitapur magistrate in relation to a separate case registered against him at the Khairabad police station, Sitapur District, on June 1, 2022, under Section 295 (a) of the Indian Penal Code and Section 67 of the Information Technology Act (“publishing and transmitting obscene material electronically”). He was remanded in judicial custody for 14 days and subsequently taken back to Tihar Jail, New Delhi, where he remained detained at the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal.

This case was registered in relation to another tweet Mr. Zubair posted on May 27, 2022 criticising three Hindu religious leaders known for their hate speech and incitement to violence against the Muslim minority in India.

The Observatory expresses its utmost concern over the arbitrary detention and judicial harassment against Mr. Mohammad Zubair, which is only aimed at punishing him and Alt News for their independent and fact-checking journalistic work.

The Observatory urges the Indian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Mohammad Zubair, drop all charges against him, and put an immediate end to any act of harassment, including at the judicial level, against him and Alt News. Furthermore, the Observatory urges the authorities to guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Mohammad Zubair and all human rights defenders arbitrarily detained in the country.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of India, urging them to:

i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Mohammad Zubair;

ii. Immediately and unconditionally release Mohammad Zubair and put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against him, as well as against all other human rights defenders in India, and ensure in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals;

iii. Guarantee Mohammad Zubair’s rights to due process and fair trial during the judicial proceedings in his case;

iv. Guarantee, in all circumstances, the right to freedom of expression, as enshrined in international human rights law, and particularly in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Addresses:

  • Mr. Narendra Damodardas Modi, Prime Minister of India, E-mail: connect@mygov.nic.in, Twitter: @narendramodi
  • Mr. Amit Shah, Union Minister of Home Affairs of India, Email: dirfcra-mha@gov.in
  • Mr. Ajay Kumar Bhalla, Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs of India, Email: hshso@nic.in
  • Mr. N.V. Ramana, Chief Justice of India, Supreme Court of India, Email: supremecourt@nic.in
  • Mr. Shri Devendra Kumar Singh, IAS, Secretary General Chief Executive Officer
    of the National Human Rights Commission of India, Email: sgnhrc@nic.in, Twitter: @India_NHRC
  • Mr. Indrajeet Kumar, Focal Point on Human Rights Defenders, National Human Rights Commission of India, Email: hrd-nhrc@nic.in
  • H.E. Mr. Indra Mani Pandey, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Email: india.geneva@mea.gov.in

Please also write to the diplomatic representations of India in your respective countries.

***
Paris-Geneva, July 12, 2022

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:


[1] Mohammad Zubair was granted anticipatory bail in the 2020 case by the High Court under Section 438 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which grants power to this court to grant anticipatory bail to a person who is accused of an non-bailable offence. In these cases, when the accused is granted anticipatory bail, he cannot be arrested but the investigation in the case can still proceed.

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