Press freedom also applies to India, says German foreign ministry

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The importance of press freedom also applies to India like the rest of the world, the German foreign ministry said on Wednesday while commenting on the arrest of Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair, Deutsche Welle reported.

A spokesperson said that the German foreign ministry was aware of the cases registered against Zubair in India and that their embassy in New Delhi is “monitoring it very closely”.

“India describes itself as the world’s largest democracy,” the foreign ministry spokesperson said. “So one can expect democratic values like freedom of expression and of the press to be given the necessary space there.”

He also said that Germany is in contact with its European Union partners about the action against the journalist.

“Free reporting is beneficial to any society,” the spokesperson said. “And restrictions are a cause of concern. Journalists should not be persecuted and imprisoned for what they say and write.”

Richard Walker, the chief international editor of Deutsche Welle, asked the spokesperson why Germany appeared to be reluctant in criticising India about Zubair’s arrest and if the authorities can go “beyond making points of principle”.

Germany precisely criticises countries where journalistic freedom is impaired, Walker added.

“I would not say that I was not precise in my criticism,” the spokesperson said in response. “Rather, I was very open to speaking on principle about the importance that we attach to freedom of expression and freedom of the press. And so, that speaks for itself.”

On June 27, Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended the Group of Seven or G7 summit in Germany’s Munich. At the summit, India signed a statement calling for “guarding the freedom, independence and diversity of civil society actors” and “protecting the freedom of expression and opinion online and offline”

Notably, India signed the statement on the same day when the Delhi Police arrested Zubair on charges of hurting religious sentiments for a tweet that he had posted in March 2018.

Several media organisations and Opposition leaders criticised the Modi government, saying that this action was “another low for press freedom in India”. India’s rank fell eight places to 150 among 180 countries in this year’s World Press Freedom Index published by media watchdog Reporters Without Borders.

Cases against Zubair in Delhi, UP

The first information report against Zubair was based on a complaint by Delhi Police Sub-Inspector Arun Kumar, who said he was monitoring social media when he came across the March 2018 tweet after a handle named Hanuman Bhakt raised objections.

The four-year-old tweet featured an image of a signboard that had once read “Honeymoon Hotel” repainted to say “Hanuman Hotel”. The journalist’s lawyer has argued in court that the photo is a screenshot from a Hindi comedy film made in 1983.

A separate case is also registered against Zubair in Uttar Pradesh in connection with a tweet in which he had called three Hindutva supremacists as “hatemongers”.

Notably, all three of them – Yati Narasinghanand Saraswati, Bajrang Muni and Anand Swaroop – have been booked in hate speech cases in the past few months for making inflammatory statements about Muslims.

On June 1, the Uttar Pradesh Police had booked Zubair in the case based on a complaint filed by Bhagwan Sharan, who identifies himself as the district head of Hindutva organisation Rashtriya Hindu Sher Sena.

Zubair has been one of the leading voices in India in debunking misinformation and reporting on hate speech. But, he has often been targeted for his work by Hindutva supremacists.

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