The Indian authorities on Monday arrested the co-founder of a fact-checking website, reigniting concerns about deteriorating journalistic freedoms in the world’s largest democracy.

The journalist, Mohammed Zubair, was held on charges of hurting religious sentiments and promoting enmity between religious groups, the New Delhi police said. The arrest came after an anonymous Twitter user complained that Mr. Zubair, a Muslim, had been disrespectful of a Hindu god in a tweet from 2018.

The detention of Mr. Zubair, journalists and activists said, is part of a broad crackdown on critics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party’s Hindu nationalist worldview. It was even more jarring, they said, because Mr. Modi had just joined leaders of the Group of 7 countries in Germany in committing to free and independent news media.

“This is extremely disturbing because Zubair and his website Alt News have done some exemplary work over the past years in identifying fake news and countering disinformation campaigns, in a very objective and factual manner,” the Editors Guild of India, a journalists’ group, said in a statement. His release is “necessary to buttress the commitments” Mr. Modi made at the G7 meeting, it read.

Mr. Zubair has been a vocal critic of Mr. Modi’s government, using Twitter to condemn Hindu activists and monks calling for the killing of Muslims. Recently, Mr. Zubair highlighted comments made by an official of Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party that some considered insulting to the Prophet Muhammad.

Mr. Zubair, the Editors Guild said, was summoned by the police on Monday in relation to a case from 2020, from which a court had granted him immunity. But he was arrested, the group said, in connection with a criminal investigation that began earlier this month after the complaint from the anonymous Twitter user.

“The allegations by police are factually wrong,” Vrinda Grover, a lawyer for Mr. Zubair, said during a bail hearing at a court in New Delhi on Tuesday. “It is coherent malicious targeting.”

The prosecution said that Mr. Zubair had not cooperated with the police’s investigation and that he had made several posts on Twitter that hurt religious sentiments. The court ruled that Mr. Zubair be remanded in police custody for four days as investigators seek to obtain his laptop and other computer devices.

Over the weekend, the Indian police arrested a prominent human rights activist, Teesta Setalvad, who led a crusade against government officials for their role in 2002 sectarian riots, in which more than 1,000 people were killed in western state of Gujarat. Last month, 10 human rights and journalism groups issued a statement saying that the Indian authorities are increasingly detaining journalists and critics of the government.

In another sign that pressure on Indian journalists is growing, the country’s ranking on the World Press Freedom Index, which evaluates the landscape for journalists in 180 countries, fell eight spots to 150 this year.

Last year, over a dozen reporters were detained on charges ranging from espionage to money laundering. In 2020, at least 67 journalists were detained by the authorities across India.

Geeta Seshu, a co-founder of Free Speech Collective, a media watchdog, said the continuing crackdown on journalists was the most dangerous one she had seen in many decades.

“What we are seeing today is a very disturbing trend of politics of revenge, and government is using all arms of state machinery to arrest and silence journalists critical of its policies,” she said. “This is not only to rob us of a democratic space of dissent, but it also cuts avenues for journalists to secure justice.”





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