Freelance Journalist-Zubair Ahmed-in Andaman Arrested For Questioning the Police Through Tweets, Court Grants Bail
Syed Khalique Ahmed | India Tomorrow
NEW DELHI, APRIL 29—A freelance journalist Zubair Ahmed, working in Andaman and Nicobar Islands, was arrested on April 27 after he tweeted, asking why are families kept under home quarantine for speaking over phone with Covid-19 patients just to know about their welfare.
However, he was granted bail by the District and Sessions Court the next day.
Zubair had tweeted after reading a news item in Andaman Chronicle, a leading daily newspaper of the island, in which a woman had told the newspaper that her entire family was home quarantined after her 79-year-old father-in-law had spoken to a relative who is Covid-19 positive.
Zubair had also tagged his tweet to the Andaman and Nicobar Island Union Territory administration, including the police. His ordeal began from there.
While Zubair could not be contacted as his phone has been confiscated by the UT police, Denis Giles, editor-in-chief of Andaman Chronicle spoke in detail to India Tomorrow narrating as to how it all happened.
Denis said, “A woman working with the UT administration told me that her entire family was quarantined after her father-in-law talked to a relative who is Covid-19 positive. The elderly man had just called up to know the welfare of the relative and give him solace in such a situation. Within two hours of the phone call on April 24, policemen landed at her residence and put up a notice, saying you are quarantined for the next 28 days. The action of the police was based on contact-tracing through phones”.
“This came as a big shock to the family because this created panic. It indicated that you can’t talk to your relative having corona positive. The punishment, if you talk, is 28 days of home quarantine. You can’t move out just because you have talked over phone to someone who is Covid-19 positive”.
“This is the attitude of the Andaman and Nicobar police. And they are doing it on the pretext of contact-tracing. And contact-tracing over phone”, Denis says.
He says, “We appreciate administration’s move to check the spread of coronavirus. But this does not entitle it to home quarantine someone and his or her family because one has simply talked over phone to inquire about the welfare of someone having corona infections?”
Denis says he carried a news report on the basis of the woman’s statement.
Zubair, according to Denis, moved by the plight of the family just tweeted saying that people talking to Covid-19 positive would be home quarantined and suggested people not to talk even over phone to any acquaintance because people are being quarantined on the basis of phone calls. Zubair earlier worked as Associate Editor of Andaman Chronicle. He is joining the paper again. “I have hired Zubair again as Associate Editor”, says Denis.
“As he had tagged his tweets to the Andaman and Nicobar police in wee hours of April 27, he got a call from Port Blair police station regarding it. But the conversation with the police was peaceful. However, he got a call from the local police station in the evening. He was asked to come to the police station. When Zubair told him that he was on Ramzan fast, the policemen told him to complete his prayers etc after breaking of the fast and then come to the police station”, says Denis.
“When Zubair reached the Police Station, he was told that the Superintendent of Police wants to talk to him regarding the tweets. As overland routes are closed due to lockdown and ferry boats are used only for supply of essential commodities and not for ferrying passengers, a special boat was arranged to take Zubair to Port Blair. While in the boat, Zubair called me up and told me that he was being taken to Port Blair as SP wanted to meet him. I told Zubair that something is fishy in it. But the police immediately took away Zubair’s mobile phone”, said Andaman Chronicle editor.
“Immediately I called up other journalist friends and they found that Zubair was brought to Port Blair police station. SP questioned him as to why did he tweet about the actions of the administration. Zubair simply responded that he had only questioned as to why the families of those who talk over phone to Covid-19 positive people were being quarantined”, says Denis.
“Zubair was arrested immediately and kept in lock-up of the police station the whole night. He was booked under Section 51 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 (Punishment for obstruction) and Sections 188 (Disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant) 269 (Negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life), 270 (Malignant act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life), 505(1)(b) (Whoever makes, publishes or circulates any statement, rumour or report with intent to cause fear or alarm among the public). He was later also booked under Section 54 (Punishment for false warning) of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 also”, says Denis.
Zubair was produced in the court of District and Sessions Court, Port Blair, on April 28 afternoon that granted Zubair conditional bail. Zubair’s advocate Mohammed Tabrez told India Tomorrow that Zubair has been asked not to leave the island without permission of the court and cooperate with the police in investigation.
Andaman Director General of Police(DGP) Deependra Pathak subsequently issued a statement on the arrest of Zubair. In the statement, he said, “Legal action has been taken against one Zubair Ahmed, a self-proclaimed journalist for posting the inciting, false and instigating tweet to disrupt public harmony, violating government order and to create panic among public…The accused is a resident of Bambooflat area, most of which is declared a containment area after several cases emerged from there. Extensive contact tracing exercise is underway in the area currently. However, such messages instigate distrust among the public for the well-established and universal health and contact-tracing protocols, thus motivating people to conceal correct information, falsify their statements, do not cooperate and/or protest against medical protocols and even break the lockdown and gather in large numbers publicly.”
“Legal action was essential so that members of public in the territory do not panic or give any false statement or create wrong data or gather in large numbers in protest endangering life at large. The action taken is absolutely impartial. Even government officers and their spouse and children have not been spared,” DGP statement adds further.
But Denis has objected to the registration of FIR against Zubair. “How can an FIR be lodged simply because someone has questioned the government?”, asks Denis.
He also questions DPG Pathak calling Zubair a “self-proclaimed journalist”. Denis says that Zubair previously worked as Associate Editor with his newspaper and then started freelance journalism. “I have again appointed him as Associate Editor in his newspaper from today(April 29)”, says Denis.
Commenting on the police statement that “the accused (Zubair) is a resident of Bambooflat area, most of which is declared a containment area after several cases (Covid-19 positive) emerged from there”, Denis said, “This does not entitle police to fix Zubair. This is wrong. This is witch-hunting of Muslims. This plea cannot be used to book Zubair under provisions of the Disaster Management Act”.
Denis said that the statement released by Pathak says that “no one should do journalism, no one should ask a question to the administration. This is not acceptable”.
Pathak could not be contacted despite several efforts. An officer in Pathak’s office who attended the landline phone, said, “Pathak Sir is busy in a meeting.” Calls on Pathak’s mobile phone went unanswered.