Earlier this week, the Uttar Pradesh government told the Supreme Court that Alt News co-founder Mohammad Zubair made graded payments for his tweets to inflame communal passion — more vicious the tweet the higher the payments — and admitted receiving Rs 2 crore.
However, uninterested by UP counsel's vehement arguments, the Supreme Court said it does not see a reason for deprivation of his liberty to persist any further and granted him interim bail in all the six FIRs registered by the Uttar Pradesh Police. From his arrest to release, Zubair had occupied the media spotlight. Zubair, who is a self-proclaimed fact-checker, is employed with Pravda Media Foundation promoted Alt News.
Uttar Pradesh's Additional Advocate General Garima Prasad pressed in the Supreme Court that Zubair is a person who, instead of informing the police of hate speech, has been taking advantage of speeches and videos having potential of creating a communal divide and he had shared them repeatedly. The counsel claimed his tweets are meant to inflame communal violence, which actually took place, in certain localities of Uttar Pradesh, where videos of crimes were used along with comments to incite communal elements to indulge in violence.
The UP's counsel urged a bench headed by justice D.Y. Chandrachud to impose a bail condition that Zubair should not tweet, adding that there are doubts if he can be called a journalist. However, refusing to restrain Zubair from tweeting, the top court said, "It is like telling a lawyer that you should not argue. How can we tell a journalist that he will not write?" The UP counsel reiterated, "He is not a journalist…" Justice Chandrachud further added that if he violates any law by tweeting, then the authorities can proceed against him as per law.
At 6 p.m. the same day, the self-proclaimed fact-checker, who had put the spotlight on former BJP leader Nupur Sharma for her remarks on the Prophet, quietly walked out of the Tihar jail wearing a baseball cap, and a full mask. However, his release from the jail does not resolve the mystery about his identity, which remains far from over. A single question created a raze on the social media: who is Mohammed Zubair? Where does he come from?
Zubair co-founded fact-checking website Alt News, along with former software engineer Pratik Sinha in 2017 to combat fake news. According to police and security agencies, Zubair, aged between 39-40 years, is a resident of Bengaluru, who holds a Bachelor of Engineering Degree in Telcom Engineering from private M S Ramaiah Institute of Technology (MSRIT). He has travelled to Saudi Arabia and Australia.
Zubair has a family with a wife, kids, and parents. He completed his engineering degree in 2005. He then joined Airtel Enterprises in Bengaluru as an engineer and worked there for two years. Zubair, then worked in CISCO-HCL company for one year before joining Nokia-Siemens Network (NSN) in 2008 and travelled the entire country, including all big metros as part of his job. Zubair worked for the NSN for a decade.
In 2015, he met Pravda Foundation Director Pratik Sinha and his mother Nirjhari Sinha. Pratik Sinha's father Mukul Sinha ran a campaign against then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi over Gujarat riots. Pratik's father, who was a scientist and also trained as a lawyer, went on to represent victims of the communal riots in Gujarat and he also took on the Narendra Modi government through sustained cross-examination in the Nanavati-Shah Commission which investigated the Godhra train carnage, riots and alleged fake encounters that followed.
It was after this meeting that Zubair and Pravada Foundation joined hands to set up Alt News by labelling it as a fact-checking website.
On July 20, giving out details on Zubair's controversial credentials claiming to be fact-checker, the UP counsel told the Supreme Court that under the guise of fact-checking, Zubair is promoting malicious and provocative content, and she also pointed at violence in Uttar Pradesh, Ghaziabad-Loni incident, which took place after his tweet, which was a video of an old man beaten by some people.
The counsel added that Zubair took advantage of this video, tweeted it to lakhs of his followers and added sentences which inflamed violence. The counsel said he had given a written apology saying that without checking facts he had gone ahead and added that Zubair was using Twitter as a medium to spread disinformation and creating communal tension by twisting facts. The counsel reiterated in the Supreme Court that he is not a journalist!