Indian police are stepping up pressure on a journalist who has provoked an embarrassing international crisis for Prime Minister Narendra Modi by drawing attention to statements by a spokeswoman for his party that was critical of Mohammed.
Posted at 6:00 am
The actions of the security forces against Mohammed Zubair, who has been in prison since June 27, have been denounced by observers of Indian politics as an act of revenge by the state leadership.
“What he is being accused of is absurd. The BJP [Bharatiya Jamata Party] does not tolerate the slightest criticism,” says Salil Tripathi, a New York-based writer and journalist, in an interview regarding Mr Modi’s education.
The Indian Daily Newspaper The Hindu goes in the same direction in a recent editorial, noting that this is “a new example of the regime’s characteristic intolerance” and its “dislike” of anyone who dares repeat its repeated attacks on the country’s religious minorities to criticize the country.
Mr Zubair, one of the co-founders of the Alt News website, which aims to counter attempts at disinformation and hate propaganda, was first accused by New Delhi police of “insulting the Hindu faith” within a four-year-old tweet.
He then shared a photo from an Indian film made 40 years earlier in which a facility was renamed after the god Hanuman.
The substitution, which can under no circumstances be considered an insult, acc The Hindudrew the ire of an anonymous netizen who filed a complaint from a Twitter account with virtually no subscribers.
The 39-year-old journalist is also being targeted by police in the state of Uttar Pradesh in the north of the country over a tweet attacking three Hindu nationalist leaders who have been described as “spreaders of hatred”.
In a Supreme Court hearing aimed at temporarily regaining his freedom, the journalist’s attorney Colin Gonsalves argued last week that his arrest was a “new police strategy” to silence critics.
“The goal is to limit the freedom of expression of supporters of secularism who dare to oppose the advocates of communitarianism and to scare them into not daring to protest anymore,” he pleaded issues.
Although the court granted the request, the journalist remains in detention as part of the separate trial pending in New Delhi.
The Alt News co-founder, who has half a million Twitter followers, sparked a scandal in late May when he widely repeated remarks by a BJP spokeswoman, Nupur Sharma, who mocked the relationship between Mohammed and his youngest wife would have .
Outraged Muslim citizens protested the speaker in Uttar Pradesh before the case took an international turn when leaders of several Muslim countries stepped in and called on the BJP to apologize.
The spokeswoman and another party official who submitted their comments were eventually fired, sparking the outrage of Hindu nationalists who were furious with Mr Zubair.
Tensions surrounding the crisis also contributed to a gruesome attack in late June in Rajasthan state, in which two Muslim men are accused of beheading a Hindu trader who tweeted his support for Nupur Sharma.
A local official asked Narendra Modi to appeal for calm, noting that “tensions are rising in small towns and the gap between communities is widening.”
Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in an online analysis last week that the Indian government always tends to downplay criticism of the “systemic discrimination” it promotes.
A step in the right direction
The situation has changed since India’s strategic partners showed their irritation. She is urging New Delhi to take more vigorous action, not, ironically the activist, to end the abuses but to “silence the critics who can reach an international audience”.
Mme Ganguly warns that countries working with Narendra Modi’s regime should ensure it honors its human rights obligations.
Germany has been particularly meddlesome in this regard in recent days, pointing out that India boasts of being “the largest democracy in the world” and should heed the importance of freedom of expression and freedom of the press in this regard.
Mr Tripathi, concerned that a growing number of his Indian correspondents no longer dare communicate with him other than through encrypted applications for fear of reprisals, believes the reflections must go further.
Foreign leaders, he said, “need to reassess whether it’s still appropriate to say that India is a true democracy.”
- Score out of 100 for India from the American organization Freedom House, which ranks political freedoms and civil rights