July 7, 2022

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On June 27, Indian authorities arrested journalist and fact-checker Mohammed Zubair of Alt News because a 4-year-old tweet of his, they claimed, mocked Hinduism and inflamed already-tense religious strife in the country.

Zubair, who is Muslim, is popular on Twitter for his frequent debunks of anti-Islamic propaganda, often purveyed by Hindu nationalist groups including the Bharatiya Janata Party, the ruling faction and party of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Many speculated the given reason for the arrest was a pretext to file other charges against Zubair. The theory would seem to withstand scrutiny given that over the weekend Indian authorities extended his five-day arrest to 14 additional days of “judicial detention” and pivoted the charges to criminal conspiracy and disappearance of evidence. Delhi police also searched Zubair’s house.

“They cannot file a complaint against me for writing a story because we have facts with us in our stories,” Zubair told Forbidden Stories, a nonprofit news outlet that highlights the work of journalists facing threats for their coverage, last year. “They cannot attack us on the story that we’ve written, so they are looking to attack me for any other unrelated tweet.”

Alt News co-founder and editor Pratik Sinha called the arrest an “attempt to stop us from doing what we do.” Sinha is facing unrelated legal attacks.

Since then, the donation platform Razorpay disabled Alt News’ account after receiving a “request from police authorities.” Razorpay is a critical funding source for the outlet, which bills itself as entirely crowdfunded. The Indian government also accused Alt News of illegally receiving foreign money, including from Pakistan, in a claim the outlet denies.

“These allegations are categorically false. Our payment platform through which we receive donations does not allow receipt of funds from foreign sources and we have received donations from Indian bank accounts only,” Alt News wrote in a statement posted to Twitter.

In addition to hundreds of thousands of followers, Zubair has a number of detractors, including the BJP and other Hindu nationalist groups even further to the right. Zubair gained popularity for debunking claims of the far-right and sharing videos of anti-Muslim behavior.

In one video shared on Zubair’s Twitter account, a Muslim woman arrives at a university donning a naqib, a garment typically worn by Muslim women that covers everything but their eyes. Immediately she is set upon and followed by a large group of student demonstrators twirling scarlet shawls above their heads and yelling. When the woman yells Allahu akbar (meaning “God is great” in Arabic), a broadcast journalist runs over to film her, with scores of student protesters at his heels. Across India, the scarlet shawl is a symbolic protest of the use of hijabs and niqabs in schools.

The account that alerted Delhi police of Zubair’s 2018 meme tweet, @balajikijaiin, had zero followers and has since been deleted.

“@Delhipolice linking our god Hanuman ji with Honey Moon (a 1973 Bollywood comedy) is a direct insult to Hindus because he is brahmachari. @DCP_CCC_Delhi kindly take action against this guy,” the tweet read.

Zubair was originally called in for questioning on an unrelated case, for which he had already been granted immunity from arrest, when he was arrested for the tweet.

According to the Reporters Without Borders’ 2022 World Press Freedom Index, India ranks 150th for press freedom out of 180 recognized countries.

Interesting fact-checks


  • VERA Files: VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Marcos Jr’s ‘biggest electoral mandate’ statement needs context (English)
    • While Ferdinand Marcos Jr. claimed that he received the most votes of any candidate in any Philippine presidential election, VERA Files points out that may just be because more people voted in this election than in any other. Marcos Jr. did not receive the highest share of the vote of any election. That title goes to Ramon Magsaysay from the 1953 election, who won 68.9% of the total vote.
  • 20 Minutes Fake Off: War in Ukraine: No, the destroyed shopping center in Kremenchuk was not “out of order” (French)
    • 20 Minutes Fake Off, a French fact-checking organization, looked at several claims from the attack on the shopping mall in Kremenchuk, Ukraine. The main claim it examined was that the mall was nonfunctional, a claim purveyed by the Russian embassy in France. Despite Russian claims that the mall was closed, 20 Minutes Fake Off found evidence of recent activity of some of the businesses that were housed in it. “The Facebook page of the Astmor chain still indicated promotions in the mall in February. A men’s clothing store in the center regularly posts new arrivals or promotions on Instagram. Their last post was a week ago.”

Quick hits

Oslo, Norway. A view at Oslofjord and Akershus fortress from the top of City hall. (Shutterstock)

From the news:

  • Fact-checking movement grapples with a world awash in false claims With the world’s largest fact-checking conference, GlobalFact 9, having wrapped up in Oslo, Glenn Kessler with The Washington Post’s Fact Checker published a nice summary and analysis of the gathering’s events. (Washington Post, Glenn Kessler)
  • Justice blocks the Acodap website, a focus of disinformation in Spain “Today’s publication is an example of the measures that the Justice in Spain is adopting against a disinformation website,” a representative from Newtral told the International Fact-Checking Network. Newtral has been covering the case for some time. (Newtral,  Guillermo Infantes Capdevila)
  • Herbal Recipes for Abortion Are Unproven and Can Be Dangerous, Contrary to Social Media Posts A deep dive into the various herbal paths that are being recommended to induce abortion. As FactCheck.org points out, many are unproven and some have led to harm. “While some of the concoctions might result in an abortion, that may just be a byproduct of poisoning in the woman’s body,” said Dr. Jen Gunter. “Many herbal abortifacients are quite literally poisons.” (FactCheck.org, Saranac Hale Spencer)

From/for the community:


  • From Science Feedback: “The goal of the Climate Science Desk is to assist the fact-checking community in its existing climate-related efforts and to help those organizations who haven’t yet started fact-checking climate take the plunge. Science Feedback has already gathered a community of about 400 climate scientists and pioneered a crowd-sourced model for verifying the credibility of viral climate claims. With the Climate Science Desk project, we want to build on our network and experience to help other fact-checking organizations increase their capacity in the climate space.” A version of the portal is available here
  • From Verificat & Kinzen: “We are happy to announce the launch of “Les Mentides intoxiquen el planeta” (Lies intoxicate the planet), a web repository of climate-related fact-checkings that Verificat will produce monitoring thousands of hours of podcasts in Spanish over the next 10 months. This is made possible thanks to Kinzen’s technology and the support of the IFCN and Meta through the Climate Misinformation Grant Program.”
  • From Maldita: “We are happy to announce a new online escape room called The hoax factory aimed to learn how to recognise disinformation about migrant people. In the game you put yourself in the shoes of an investigative journalist that has 45 minutes to gather evidence of the disinformation activities of the hoax factory in order to publish a scoop that reveals the danger that it means.” The program was developed in collaboration with Oxfam Intermón and the European Union and is available in both English and Spanish. 
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Seth Smalley is a reporter at Poynter and the IFCN. Get in touch at seth@poynter.org or on Twitter @sethsalex.
Seth Smalley

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