Muslim journalist Mohammed Zubair has been freed from jail on the order of India’s Supreme Court after he was detained last month for allegedly insulting religious beliefs on social media.
Zubair – co-founder of fact-checking website Alt News, which debunks misinformation in the Indian media – was arrested by Delhi police on June 27 after a Twitter user accused him of insulting Hindus in a 2018 post about the renaming of a hotel after a Hindu god.
Zubair had already been granted bail for the case in Delhi but had remained in custody after several police complaints were filed against him in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh in June and July over separate social media posts.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court said all of the outstanding cases would be combined and investigated by a special unit of the Delhi police, and ordered his release by 6 p.m. local time.
Zubair often tweets criticism of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for what he and other critics claim is a crackdown on the rights of the country’s roughly 200 million Muslims.
Among his recent social media posts are videos he claims show Hindu extremists giving hate speeches against Islam, a minority religion in India where nearly 80% of people are Hindu.
Zubair’s arrest came amid repeated accusations by critics that the BJP is using colonial-era laws to quash any form of criticism and encourage self-censorship, and was condemned by free speech advocates.
In early June, Zubair had highlighted derogatory comments made by a BJP spokesperson about Islam’s Prophet Mohammed that sparked a diplomatic row with several Gulf states.
The spokesperson, Nurpur Sharma, was suspended by the BJP after at least 15 Muslim-majority nations condemned her remarks, several of them summoning India’s ambassadors.
In a statement after Zubair’s arrest in June, the Editors Guild of India said it was “apparent that Alt News’ alert vigilance was resented by those who use disinformation as a tool to polarise society and rake nationalist sentiments.”
Early Thursday, Pratik Sinha, Alt News’ co-founder, posted a photo of him with Zubair on Twitter, thanking their supporters.
“Zubair wants to convey his heartfelt gratitude to everyone who stood by us and supported us in the last few weeks,” Sinha wrote. “He’ll be back real soon.”