How is freedom of speech and religion practised in India? Indian police arrested Muslim journalist Zubair on 27 June for allegedly insulting the Hindu monkey god with his tweets in 2018.
This has led many international journalist-protection NGOs to criticise the Indian government for infringing on freedom of expression and, more recently, for its crackdown on criticism of the government. The case has also generated much debate in India due to the religious background of the journalists.
According to Al Jazeera and The Times of India, Indian police announced the arrest of Zubair, co-founder of the civilian fact-checking platform Alt News, for criticising a hotel in India in 2018 for being named after the monkey god of traditional Hindu beliefs and tweeting about it. The Indian police directly declared him to be in breach of the law and jailed him.
Another co-founder, Sinha, was interviewed and said that the police gave no notice at all before the arrest. The Alt News, which they founded, has in recent years specialised in checking for false information about Hinduism and right-wing populism and claims to be produced by supporters of the ruling People’s Party.
He said that since the organisation’s inception, it had been subjected to regular “greetings” and online messages from the police. However, the police have claimed that Zubair is suspected of inciting riots and blasphemy in violation of sections 153 and 295A of the Indian Penal Code.
On hearing the news, international journalists and NGOs have demanded that Zubair be released immediately by the Indian police, setting another record for free speech in India.
According to Reporters Without Borders, India ranks 150th out of 222 countries in terms of freedom of expression. Last month’s Freedom of Expression Day saw 10 human rights groups argue that India is imposing a severe clampdown on freedom of expression and journalists and that the public is not allowed to criticise the government.
Rahul Gandhi, the leader of India’s opposition Congress Party, also said that if the ruling party continued its crackdown, more voices would emerge.
However, the ruling People’s Party coalition now holds 355 seats in Parliament, while the opposition coalition has only 207 seats.
This incident also highlights the recent decline in freedom of expression in India and the long-standing religious conflict, both of which are still very sensitive issues in the country.
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