The Cyber Cell of the Delhi Police has registered an FIR against fact-check website AltNews co-founder, Mohammed Zubair, for allegedly ‘threatening and torturing a girl child through Twitter’, officials announced on Sunday. Zubair has refuted the allegation as ‘an absolutely frivolous complaint’
Are the FIRS filed against Mohammed Zubair, co-founder of fact-checking site AltNews, as one more instance of the brazen targeting of a journalist whose work involves the job of debunking the reams of fake news and inflammatory propaganda that fills up our social media feeds and WhatsApp chats in India? It would appear so.
The online journalist, Zubair has been booked in two police cases, one in Delhi and another in Raipur, under provisions of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act and the Information Technology Act for allegedly harassing and torturing a minor girl online. Reports suggest that the cases came after the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, upon receiving a complaint, wrote to the police to initiate action against Zubair.
What is the charge? A Twitter user, Jagdish Singh using the handle @JSINGH2252, had responded to one of Zubair’s posts with an abusive message. Zubair replied by pointing out that Singh’s display picture on Twitter featured a little girl, saying, “Does your cute grand daughter know about your part time job of abusing people on social media? I suggest you to change your profile pic.” In his post, Zubair had blurred the image of the minor.
The journalist, Zubair has termed the cases “frivolous” and said he will respond to them legally. AltNews, has meanwhile, put out a statement saying that this is an attempt to “hound” co-founder of Alt News, Mohammed Zubair, through misuse of legal apparatus.”
The facts of the matter are plain for all to see.
The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, a statutory body that is supposed to hold all institutions including the government to account, has made it to the news over the last few months for asking authorities to even identify young children with their mothers at the Shaheen Bagh protests in Delhi because they are “likely to be suffering from mental trauma”. The iconic protests were against the ignominious Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 and proposed National Register of Citizens NRC) and National Population Register (NPR). However the same NCPCR has not found the police brutalities, interrogation and detention of minors, an issue of concern. Nor have the recent multiple cases of child rape in Uttar Pradesh drawn its attention.
Arguably, if Zubair can be accused under those sections of the law pertaining to harassing and torturing a minor girl online, the very same charge can be laid at the feet of “Jagdish Singh”, who chose to post profane Twitter messages with an un-blurred photograph of the minor. Wouldn’t that be a cause for “mental trauma” to the child, as the commission sees it?
This appears one more instance of the failure of statutory institutions to take on abusive users on social media if they favour the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party or their parent or fraternal outfits like the RSS, VHP, Bajrang Dal and the like. The focus is clearly on those who highlight these abuses – in this case leading to evidently untenable charges against a journalist who frequently calls out the BJP’s IT cell.
There have also been serious questions raised of the higher courts and lower judiciary in protecting fundamental rights and Constitutional morality. In law, it is incumbent upon the magistrates and judges that oversee matters like this to apply their mind and ensure that journalists like Zubair are not hounded by authorities for simply doing their jobs.