The Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday that Indian police should discontinue their investigations of journalists Saba Naqvi and Mohammed Zubair in response to their social media posts criticising right-wing Hindu parties and activists, and enable all members of the press to work freely.
On 3 June, authorities in Uttar Pradesh’s Sitapur district launched an inquiry into Zubair, the co-founder of the fact-checking website Alt News, after he tweeted that three right-wing Hindu monks were “hatemongers.”
Police in New Delhi opened an investigation into Naqvi, a freelance journalist, after she shared a satirical meme on her Twitter account about a recent claim that a revered symbol connected to the Hindu god Shiva had been discovered in a mosque in the northern Varanasi city. Several Twitter users, including a member of parliament, reposted the meme, which was then republished by the financial journal Economic Times. The inquiry, however, exclusively named Naqvi, a Muslim who is recognised for her criticism of right-wing Hindu politics.
This is the second social media-related probe into Naqvi and the fifth into Zubair. CPJ said their social media accounts, both journalists use social media as part of their work.
In Washington, D.C., CPJ Asia programme coordinator Steven Butler stated, “Indian police need to cease targeting journalists who are critical of sectarian politics.”
“Selective investigations of Mohammed Zubair and Saba Naqvi strongly show that they are being unfairly targeted as journalists and Muslims,” Butler said.
Police are investigating Zubair under Section 295(a) of the penal code for “deliberate and malicious acts”. Section 67 of the Information Technology Act was enacted to create religious anger “publishing or transmitting obscene material”according to the reports. He faces three years imprisonment under Section 295(a) and an additional three years and a fine of 500,000 rupees under Section 67, according to the law.
According to those accounts, the complaint was submitted against Zubair by Bhagwan Sharan, who described himself as the district chairman of the Hindu right-wing outfit Rashtriya Hindu Sher Sena. Zubair’s request to terminate the probe was denied by the Allahabad High Court on June 13.
Naqvi is being investigated for violating the penal code’s Section 153 for “promoting enmity” between groups, Section 295, and Section 505 for encouraging people to commit crimes against the state or “public tranquility,” According to the legislation, she faces six months in prison under Section 153, two years in prison under Section 295, and five years in prison under Section 505. There is also an unspecified fine for each section.
The Intelligence Fusion and Strategic Operation unit of the Special Cell of Delhi Police filed the case against Naqvi for “inciting various groups and creating situations that are detrimental to the maintenance of public tranquility in the country,” according to India Today.
“I was shocked,” By text message, Naqvi said to CPJ. . “[This investigation has] implications for free speech in India, suggesting that there can be cherry picking to target certain journalists.”