NEW DELHI: The Editors Guild of India and the Press Club of India on Tuesday described the arrest of Alt News co-founder Muhammad Zubair on charges of hurting religious sentiments as “extremely disturbing” and demanded his immediate release.

Both the media bodies pointed out that the action against Zubair came on a day when India joined G7 and four other countries to protect free speech, “online and offline”.

“It is apparent that Alt News’ alert vigilance was resented by those who use disinformation as a tool to polarise society and rake nationalist sentiments,” the guild said in a statement here.

Zubair was arrested by the Special Cell of the Delhi Police on Monday on charges of promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion and deliberate acts to outrage religious feelings.

“Zubair has been arrested under sections 153 and 295 of the Indian Penal Code.

This is extremely disturbing because Zubair and his website Alt News have done some exemplary work over the past few years in identifying fake news and countering disinformation campaigns, in a very objective and factual manner,” the guild said.

It demanded that the Delhi Police release Zubair immediately.

“This is necessary to buttress the commitments made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the G7 meet in Germany to ensure a resilient democracy by protecting online and offline content,” the guild said.

The Press Club of India said: “The action by the Delhi Police in hastily arresting Muhammad Zubair showed the blatant violation of the country’s commitment on the global platform given by none other than the prime minister himself.”

Earlier, a body of digital media organisations had condemned Zubair’s arrest and asked the Delhi Police to withdraw the case against him immediately.

In a democracy, where every individual possesses the right to exercise the freedom of speech and expression, it is unjustifiable that such stringent laws are used as tools against journalists, who have been accorded the role of playing a watchdog against the misuse of the institutions of the State, a statement issued by the DIGIPUB said.

“The use of such stringent laws as tools against journalists who are considered the fourth pillar of democracy must be stopped. We stand with Zubair,” it added.

Prominent Muslim organisation Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind on Tuesday termed the arrest “discriminatory” and demanded that the government take “fair action” in the matter respecting the country’s reputation at the international level.

Jamiat president Maulana Mahmood Madani also wrote to Home Minister Amit Shah saying “the discriminatory nature” of the functioning of law enforcement agencies is condemnable.

“On one hand, people who openly deliver hate speeches and make genocide calls are roaming free, while on the other hand journalists who are tirelessly working in exposing such hate-mongers are being systematically harassed and intimidated,” Madani said.

“There is no doubt that the people accused of hurting religious sentiments of other people’s faith, their holy saints and holy books with the intention to cause communal disturbance must be dealt with firmly as per the provision of the law.

However, there must not be any discrimination in dealing with such people on the basis of their particular faith,” the Jamiat chief said.

In the case against Zubair, Madani alleged “discrimination and religious persecution”.

“We solemnly appeal to you as the guardian of the law enforcement to kindly make sure that absolute equality and impartiality is exercised by the law enforcement agencies in dealing with the hate mongers irrespective of their faith,” Madani said in his letter.

“We demand that the government take fair action respecting the country’s reputation at the international level,” he said.

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