New Delhi: Alt News co-founder Mohammad Zubair has received a fresh flurry of online threats from several pro-Hindutva influencers, with some even inciting violence against the journalist.
The threats range from those demanding lone wolf attacks against Zubair to seeking “extrajudicial steps" against him.
The reply section of this tweet that accuses Zubair of ruining the life of “a Brahmin woman” that led to the “beheadings of six Hindus,” is rife with numerous death threats. One user replied in Hindi, “Zubair ******** will be shot in the ******one day.” One handle said, “he deserves sʈʂj” (STSJ being an abbreviation, a cryptic reference to the inflammatory slogan to urge beheadings) Another replied that “whoever sees **** should do the needful”. In yet another threat, a verified user responded with “make him feel the fate of Hiranyakashapu”. The reference being the demon king, slain by Narasimha, an avatar of Lord Vishnu on Holi.
A few of the threats came after Zubair confronted on Twitter a man who made abusive references to women in the fact-checker’s family. In another instance, a Supreme Court lawyer named Shashank Shekhar Jha tweeted that he would never forgive Zubair.
Among those who issued threats against Zubair were right-wing columnist Harshil Mehta and former OpIndia editor, Ajeet Bharti.
“The plan is on. This time he will be totally circumcised so much that he'll need a pipe to urinate,” tweeted Bharti. Some users suggested lone wolf attacks and “Akhlaq” like treatment. In 2015, Mohammed Akhlaq was beaten to death by a mob on the suspicion of eating beef in Uttar Pradesh’s Dadri district.
“I am not aware of any death threat, no such information has come to me,” said Bengaluru police commissioner Pratap Reddy. “If Zubair approaches us, we will consider giving security based on the case.”
Pratik Sinha, co-founder of Alt News, said that they were talking with their lawyers about what to do.
Earlier, Zubair tweeted to say that while he largely ignored or laughed off the torrent of abuse he receives, the flurry of tweets by people about “physically harming & finishing me” had increased after Alt News busted fake propaganda about murderous attacks on migrant Bihari workers in Tamil Nadu. Zubair also told The Wire that he had received threats earlier, but this time the threats were angrier and more explicit.
In recent weeks, several right-wing social media pages, BJP leaders and some television news channels falsely claimed that migrant labourers, particularly from Bihar, were being lynched in Tamil Nadu.
Several fact-checkers, including Zubair, called out ‘fake’ videos that falsely claimed migrant workers in Tamil Nadu were being attacked. Their fact-checks helped counter the disinformation and also led to criminal cases against Uttar Pradesh BJP spokesperson Prashant Umrao, Hindi newspaper Dainik Bhaskar, right wing website OpIndia’s editor Nupur Sharma and CEO Rahul Roushan, and a few YouTubers and Twitter handles.
Zubair has often been the target of abuse by the Hindu right-wing, who have also filed criminal cases against him. In June 2022, he was arrested for allegedly “hurting religious sentiments” through one of his tweets.
While he was first arrested by the Delhi police, a number of FIRs were filed against Zubair in Uttar Pradesh for his tweet. He spent 24 days in jail before he was released on bail.
While granting him bail, the Supreme Court said that "it finds no reason or justification for the deprivation of his liberty to persist any further”. When the UP government said that Zubair be restrained from tweeting, the Supreme Court responded that a journalist could not be prevented from tweeting and writing.
This story was first published in The Wire.
Note: This article was originally published on 9 March 2023, and was updated on 11 March 2023 with details of more tweets.