Zubair arrest debate goes global, as Germany speaks against ‘arrest of journalists for what they say and write’

Journalists should not be persecuted and imprisoned for what they say and write, maintains Germany as Zubair’s detention gets debated

With the arrest of Mohammed Zubair, the co-founder of fact-checker website Alt News, a few days ago, the aspect of freedom of the press is back in debate. After Zubair was arrested by a cyber unit of Delhi Police on charges of allegedly hurting religious sentiments following a complaint by a social media user who referred to a tweet from 2018, the nation has been divided over whether the action against the media person was fair, or not.  

Zubair has been granted a 5-day bail this morning, but the act of the police, and the Indian administration leaves many flustered. They believe this is the latest in the string of efforts by the ruling dispensation to silence the media, and it would continue. Even as a large section of the Indian population hasn’t come to terms with what Mohammed Zubair did to invite arrest, the international community seems to have taken a stern stand against bids to muffle the media.

The German Foreign Ministry has taken exception to India’s stand in the case and has sent out a message stressing that “journalists should not be persecuted and imprisoned for what they say and write”. That exactly is what many people in India do think and believe. But somehow the government at the Centre thinks otherwise.

Uninformed comments unhelpful, says India

Going by web reports, the German ministry has connected with the European Union partners and has maintained that freedom of press has been discussed between the EU and India. But, India responded saying that “uninformed comments are unhelpful and should be avoided”. A statement that looks like making itself insulated from comments from outside the border. Arindam Bagchi, spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs has been quoted saying that there is a judicial process underway in this case, and that it would not be appropriate to comment on a case that is sub-judice. He went on to add that the “independence of the Indian judiciary is well recognised, and uninformed comments are unhelpful and should be avoided.”

Going back to the German media briefing on the issue, the European nation had stated that it was committed to the freedom of expression and freedom of press all over the world, and that applies to India too. The German Foreign Ministry went on to remind that restrictions on free reporting is a cause for concern, and that media persons should not be persecuted and imprisoned for what they say and write.

Arrest of journalist and freedom of the press

Germany has also said that the EU has a human rights dialogue with India, and that the focus of those parleys have been freedom of expression and freedom of the press. The European nation’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson elaborated in a message, broadcast in German language, that one can expect democratic values like freedom of expression and of the press to be given the necessary space in India.

The focus was on freedom of the press and how to uphold it. It may be recalled that a spokesperson for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres had said a few days earlier that that journalists should not be jailed for “what they write, what they tweet and what they say”.

Even as the international community is all for upholding the freedom of the press, and in the context of the Zubair arrest issue, India maintains that the whole affair is a domestic issue. But then, if Zubair’s detention may be seen as a domestic issue, the attack on freedom of the press isn’t, for sure.

The international community talking of freedom of the press in a scenario when the media and news personnel come under attack can’t be ignored. However, India doesn’t seem to be in a mood to give in to remarks from outside the border. It remains to be seen as to how the latest episode will now unravel in the coming days.

Sanjeev Ramachandran

A journalist with 23 years of experience, Sanjeev has worked with reputed media houses such as Business Standard, The Ne More »

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