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India: Groups Demand Release Of Mohammed Zubair And Teesta Setalvad

Monday 4 July 2022, by siawi3


India: Groups Demand Release Of Mohammed Zubair And Teesta Setalvad

By Bharat Dogra,
Popular Resistance.

July 2, 2022

Photos: Mohammed Zubair (left) and Teesta Setalvad (right). The Siasat Daily.

Leading media organizations have come out in strong support of recently arrested journalist Mohammed Zubair. These organizations include, among others, the Editors Guild of India, the Press Club of India, the Delhi Union of Journalists and DIGIPUB, a platform for several important digital media organizations. All these organizations have condemned the recent arrest of the noted journalist and demanded his immediate release.

While leading human rights organizations and political parties have also made somewhat similar statements, the strong support of media organizations is particularly important as the effort of the authorities has been to try to present the arrested journalist as someone who has been indulging in irresponsible journalism. In such a situation the support of those media organizations who are familiar with his work and who are most capable of judging the quality of his work is very important. In this context it is important that some media organizations have specifically stated that his work and that of Alt News, the media organization Zubair represents, is important and known for high professional standards.

Mohammed Zubair

Mohammed Zubair is co-founder of a popular fact-finding website Alt News. As media organizations have pointed out, the ostensible reason for arrest appears to be a complaint regarding a tweet that goes back to four years in 2018. It is highly abnormal for a senior journalist to be arrested for a tweet made such a long time back and this is why this is being widely seen as an act of vendetta.

The Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ) has stated in a statement released on June 29 that Alt News is considered the gold standard in fact checking. Such a statement would never have been made by a prominent organization of journalists without really credible work having been done by this website. This statement has also stated that on twitter the arrested journalist has 572,000 followers and his popularity appears to have made him a target.

The DUJ statement has also quoted Alt News co-founder Prateek Sinha as saying that despite repeated requests by Mohammed Jubair a copy of the FIR was not provided to him at the time of arrest.

The DUJ has demanded the release of both Mohammed Zubair and Teesta Setalvad, a prominent journalist as well as human rights activist, who too was arrested very recently. This statement has noted the contradiction, observed also by other media organizations, between such arrests and the statements endorsed internationally by the Government of India regarding freedom of media and civil society organizations. In fact very recently at the G7 summit and meeting of several countries in Germany the Indian government committed itself to the 2022 Resilient Democracies Statement which involves a pledge to guard the freedom, independence and diversity of civil society actors and protect the freedom of expression online and offline. How does such a pledge square up with the arrest of a courageous and highly regarded journalist in a highly arbitrary manner for a complaint relating to a 4 year old tweet?

In an earlier statement the Editors Guild of India had stated that this arrest is “extremely disturbing”. This statement also noted that Alt News and Mohammed Zubair 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 Press Club of India and DIGIPUB have also condemned the arrest and asked for the release of the arrested journalist.

These statements have come on top of the strong opposition to this arrest by human rights organizations like the Amnesty International as well as leading opposition political parties including the Congress, the CPM and CPI.

These statements of leading media organizations should be seen together with the several other statements released by them earlier regarding the injustice and severe distress which several other journalists, columnists and media organizations have suffered due to the repressive attitude of the Indian government in recent times. Till just a few years back, before 2014, India was widely regarded to be among those developing countries where the media worked in very free conditions and although there were constraints imposed by such factors as the ownership and advertisement patterns, the condition was widely regarded to be satisfactory in terms of absence of any serious constraints imposed from the side of the union government. This deterioration in media freedom in India is a very distressing and significant aspect of the deterioration of democratic norms and must be firmly resisted.

Teesta Setalvad

National and international voices for justice for Teesta Setalvad, leading human rights defender, have continued to grow stronger since she was detained by the Indian authorities on June 25.

UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Defenders Mary Lawlor stated soon after Teesta’s detention that she is deeply concerned by this. She said that Teesta is a strong voice against hatred and discrimination. Lawlor has called for her release and an end to persecution by Indian State.

Both as an activist and as a journalist Teesta has been struggling for human rights concerns for years and and has also worked tirelessly for issues relating to inter-faith harmony. Her detention is widely believed to be related to her consistent efforts to bring out several aspects of riots and attacks which were being allegedly suppressed by powerful authorities.

For similar efforts former Indian Police Officer and whistleblower R.B. Sreekumar was arrested on the same day. Several voices of protests have asked for justice for both Teesta and Sreekumar, as well for another IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt who was jailed earlier. In particular it is widely believed that those involved in bringing to light certain aspects of the riots which took place nearly 2 decades back in Gujarat are being targeted.

Soon after the arrests of Sreekumar and Teesta on January 25, protest demonstrations were hurriedly organized in several cities of India and messages of support for them poured in. As per reports published in various web-sites and newspapers, by the evening of June 27 protests had already been organized in Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Varanasi, Trivandrum, Jaipur, Ranchi, Bhopal, Lucknow, Allahabad, Chandigarh, Chennai, Raipur and some other places.

Over 2000 persons have signed statements demanding justice for Teesta. These include Medha Patkar, India’s leading social activist and Convener of the National Alliance for People’s Movements, V. Suresh, General Secretary of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties and former Navy Chief Admiral Ramdas.

Leading organizations which have called for justice include Human Rights Watch, All India Lawyers’ Union, Amnesty India, Mumbai Press Club and Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ). The Mumbai Press Club has referred to the June 25 arrest/detention as a “chilling process of vendetta” and an example of the “politics of vengeance.” The DUJ has also issued a strong statement against this injustice.

While several political parties have opposed the arrest/detention, particularly noteworthy has been the strong stand taken by the Congress Party and the left parties. The Left Front Chairman Biman Bose as well as the CPM leader Brinda Karat have condemned the arrest and demanded justice. Congress MP Shashi Tharoor has deplored the Government’s “habit of targeting opponents and infringing on civil liberties, of which the arrest of Teesta Setalvad in the latest example.” The protests in Delhi and elsewhere saw the coming together of senior members of the Congress and left parties and one hopes that this unity can be maintained further in demanding justice for other political prisoners as well.

In fact these protests have at times taken the form of demanding such wider justice for all political prisoners as there is growing concern over the deterioration of the health of several political persons, including scholars of repute. These concerns have a growing sense of urgency as several of these political prisoners and detainees suffer from serious and multiple health problems and even disabilities. Following the death last year of Fr. Stan Swamy (a Jesuit priest and reputed scholar who had devoted his life to serving the poorest sections of society) in very tragic circumstances, despite several warnings of his fast deteriorating health problems, such concerns have been growing steadily. A strong plea has also been made for providing significant relief to political prisoners before the celebration of the 75th anniversary of India’s independence on August 15 this year, drawing attention also to the fact that several of them have been arrested under very arbitrary and draconian anti-democratic laws which are completely against the spirit of India’s long and distinguished freedom movement.

Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include A Day in 2071, Man over Machine, Protecting Earth for Children and Navjeevan.