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Don’t jail journalists for what they say… India a democracy: Germany

Days after the arrest of Mohammed Zubair, the co-founder of fact-checker website Alt News, on charges of promoting religious enmity in a tweet from 2018, the German Foreign ministry referred to the case and said “journalists should not be persecuted and imprisoned for what they say and write”.

The spokesperson at the German ministry said that they are in contact with European Union partners, and freedom of press is part of discussions between the EU and India. Hours later, India responded with a terse statement that “uninformed comments are unhelpful and should be avoided”.

Asked about Germany’s position, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said: “Let me emphasise that there is a judicial process underway in this case. And I don’t think it would be appropriate for me or anyone else to comment on a case that is sub-judice. I think the independence of our judiciary is well recognised, and uninformed comments are unhelpful and should be avoided.”

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Earlier, at a press briefing in Berlin, the German spokesperson said in response to a question on Zubair: “We are, of course, committed to the freedom of expression and freedom of press all over the world. This is something of great importance. And that also applies to India.”

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Speaking in German, he said: “Free reporting is beneficial to any society and restrictions are a cause for concern…journalists should not be persecuted and imprisoned for what they say and write. We are indeed aware of this particular case and our embassy in New Delhi is monitoring it very closely. We are also in contact on this with our EU partners on the ground — the EU has a human rights dialogue with India, and freedom of expression and freedom of the press are a focus of those discussions”.

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The spokesperson said: “India describes itself as the world’s largest democracy. So, one can expect democratic values like freedom of expression and of the press to be given the necessary space there.”

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Asked why he was not being more specific in his criticism, the German spokesperson said, “I would not say I was not precise in my criticism. Rather, I was very open to speaking…about the importance that we attach to freedom of expression and freedom of the press. And so that speaks for itself.”

Also Read | AltNews co-founder Mohammed Zubair produced in UP court in ‘hate mongers’ case

Zubair was arrested by the Delhi Police on June 27 and has been in custody since then — first under police custody, and later in judicial custody for an additional charge under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA). On Thursday, he was sent to police custody for six days in UP’s Sitapur over a separate case related to alleged remarks against some religious leaders.

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Last week, responding to a question on Zubair, a spokesperson for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres had said that journalists should not be jailed for “what they write, what they tweet and what they say” — and it is important that people be allowed to express themselves freely without the threat of harassment.

© The Indian Express (P) Ltd

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