Journalists should be allowed to express themselves without facing harassment from authorities, the spokesperson for UN chief Antonio Guterres has said in response to the recent arrest of a journalist in India.
Mohammad Zubair, a Muslim journalist who has been relentlessly reporting on disinformation and rising hate against minorities in India, was arrested by the Delhi police on Monday, just days after he brought international attention to controversial remarks by a ruling party spokesperson against prophet Muhammad.
Mr Zubair, co-founder of the fact-checking website Alt News, was arrested following a complaint by a Twitter user over a satirical tweet posted more than four years ago in 2018, allegedly mocking Hindu god Hanuman.
While responding to queries about Mr Zubair’s arrest at Tuesday’s news briefing, Stephane Dujarric, the spokesperon for UN secretary-general Mr Guterres, said: “In any place around the world, it is very important that people be allowed to express themselves freely, journalists be allowed to express themselves freely and without the threat of any harassment.”
“Journalists should not be jailed for what they write, what they tweet and what they say. And that goes for anywhere in the world, including in this room,” he added.
The co-founder of the Alt News website, who has gained popularity in the country as he routinely calls out hate speech by Hindu right fringe elements, has been charged with two sections of the Indian penal code for promoting enmity between different groups and outraging religious feelings.
Netizens have pointed out that the image tweeted by Mr Zubair in 2018 was actually a screengrab from a popular 1983 Bollywood movie, which has aired on TV several times, presumably with appropriate clearance from the country’s censor board.
They also pointed out that the arrest took place merely eight days after an anonymous Twitter handle raised a complaint against the four-year-old tweet. That was the only post made by the Twitter handle, which no longer exists on the social media site.
On Tuesday, a Delhi court sent the journalist to police custody for four days.
Pratik Sinha, the other co-founder of Alt News, said Mr Zubair was arrested without any notice from police — which is mandatory under law.
The Muslim journalist’s arrest has shocked many in the country, and several journalists, politicians, and rights organisations have voiced their concern for Mr Zubair.
— Alishan Jafri (@alishan_jafri) June 27, 2022
In fact, the hashtag #ISupportZubair was trending on Twitter on Monday when he was arrested.
Amnesty India also issued a statement in the wake of his arrest and said that this “shows the dangers facing human rights defenders in India has reached crisis point”.
Journalists and activists critical of the government have increasingly come under attack in recent years and India’s press freedom rankings have plummeted to the lowest ever this year at 150.