A 39-year-old journalist, Mohammad Zubair is the co-founder of the fact-checking website Alt News, which he founded along with former software engineer Pratik Sinha in 2017 to combat fake news and is IFCN certified. The legal entity behind AltNews. is a not-for-profit company called Pravda Media Foundation.
Life and activism
Zubair belongs to a humble Muslim family in Bangalore. He worked as a software engineer at Nokia for more than ten years. In September 2018, Zubair quit his job at Nokia and became a full-time employee of Alt News.
Recently, Zubair got highlighted when he posted the video clip of BJP’s ex – spokesperson Nupur Sharma making derogatory remarks about Prophet Muhammad in a TV debate. Nupur Sharma was subsequently sacked, and her remarks were condemned by the Islamic world. To date, no arrest has been made in this case.
On the other hand, an FIR was lodged against Mohammed Zubair in Uttar Pradesh for hurting religious sentiments by calling Mahant Bajrang Muni ‘Udasin’, Yati Narsinghanand, and Swami Anand Swarup “hatemongers” on Twitter.
The Khairabad police booked Mohammed Zubair in Sitapur under IPC section 295A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs) and Section 67 (publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form).
His recent arrest was in a case related to an alleged objectionable tweet on Lord Hanuman, posted by him in 2018. Zubair was systematically targeted in the past as well for one or another reason. But, he continued working with Alt News becoming an institution in itself. According to Alt News editor-in-chief Pratik Sinha, the Cases against Mohammed Zubair were a clear example of “selective targeting” for being vocal, bursting myths, and fake news.
Circumstances of arrest
Police filed an FIR against Mohammed Zubair in connection with the complaint flagged by a Twitter handle that goes by the name hanuman Bhakt with the picture of lord hanuman as the profile picture, which referred to a tweet from 2018. Mohammed Zubair’s post was a clip of the 1983 Hindi comedy film Kissi Se Na Kehna.
Following his arrest, various media houses falsely reported that his bank account had over Rs 50 lakh of transactions in the previous days. To put an end to the false allegations, Pratik Sinha, via a tweet, revealed that the police deliberately linked donations received by Alt News to Zubair. He mentioned the copy of the bank statement countering the false allegations.
Charges and allegations
Initially, he was booked under IPC sections 153-A (promoting enmity between different groups) and 295-A (malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings). Later the police added three new sections to the FIR against him: IPC 201 (causing disappearance of evidence of the offence or giving false information to screen offender),
IPC 120 (B)(punishment of criminal conspiracy), and section 35 of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA).
The primary allegation against him is that he hurt religious sentiments, though some FIRs mention other offences too. In some, he was sent to judicial custody. His electronic devices were seized. According to his lawyer, Vrinda Grover, this is an abuse of the process of law, and this kind of selective targeting must end.
The apex Court granted bail to Mohammad Zubair on 20th July 2022.