The arrest of Alt News co-founder Mohammad Zubair and the cases registered against him are in the news.
First he was arrested in connection with a four-year-old tweet. Later, a case of criminal conspiracy, destruction of evidence and violation of foreign funding rules was also registered against him.
Due to his second tweet, a case was also registered in Sitapur. The Uttar Pradesh Police took him to Sitapur on 2 July. However, by evening he was again handed over to the Delhi Police.
Zubair was first arrested by the Delhi Police on Monday for hurting religious sentiments in a tweet posted in March 2018.
New cases have been added to the previously reported case. Fresh charges have been filed against Zubair under sections 120B and 201 and section 35 of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA).
Pravda Media Foundation is a non-profit organization under which Alt-News works.
Delhi Police claimed that Pravda Media Foundation has received funds from various countries including Pakistan, Syria, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Qatar. Zubair is a director at Pravda Media Foundation along with Prateek Sinha and Nirjhari Sinha.
Allegations and questions of foreign donations
KPS Malhotra, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Intelligence Fusion and Strategic Operations while talking to the media said, “From analyzing the reply received from Razorpay payment gateway, we found that various transactions have taken place, in which the mobile phone number is either from outside India or The IP address is foreign.”
On allegations of violation of foreign funding norms, Zubair’s lawyer Vrinda Grover argued that the money from outside was given to Alt News and not to Zubair.
Vrinda Grover argues that the fact check website, which is registered under the Companies Act, can receive foreign money.
Another lawyer, Soutik Banerjee, appearing for Zubair, told the media, “We are clearly saying that no funds have been sent to Zubair, and all donations received by Alt News are from Indian citizens. There is no foreign donation.”
What is foreign donation?
Lawyers say that donations sent by Indian citizens living abroad cannot be called foreign donations. All Indians residing abroad can contribute to any organization within the specified limit.
According to the lawyers, Section 35 of the FCRA can interpret donations from abroad in several ways and that the Delhi Police has not specified the offense in Zubair’s case.
According to senior advocate Shashwat Anand of Allahabad High Court, due to the imposition of FCRA section, the court had no other option but to not grant bail to Zubair.
He said, “If only he had been accused of hurting religious sentiments, he would have easily got bail. Now the police have added section 35 of the FCRA. Section 35 is that of helping someone, accepting foreign money or Helping any political party or whatever is illegal under this section, then in that case the person can be punished with imprisonment for five years.
“Last week, when Zubair’s bail plea was heard in the court, it came to light that under Section 35 of the FCRA, an investigation has to be conducted against him on the ground on which his bail was cancelled.”
The grounds for dismissing the bail plea are correct, but Shashwat Anand says, “The FCRA section has been imposed on Pravda Media Foundation, not against Zubair. He is its director, but the FCRA section is not against him.”
Why is this rule not applicable to political parties?
It is clearly stated on the website of the Ministry of Home Affairs that FCRA regulates all those individuals, institutions and NGOs who want to receive foreign donations / money.
It is mandatory to register yourself under FCRA which remains valid for a period of five years which can be further extended for another five years.
According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, the FCRA Act was introduced in 2010, but the Modi government has made changes in it several times in eight years.
The first change was made on April 12, 2012, the second on December 14, 2015, the third on March 7, 2019, the fourth on September 16, 2019, the fifth on November 10, 2020, the sixth on January 11, 2021 and the last on July 1, 2022.
Over the years, NGOs and human rights groups have been accusing the central government of misusing the FCRA.
Tehmina Arora, Director, Alliance Defending Freedom, India, a non-governmental organization, says, “It is the responsibility of NGOs to tell the government where donations and donations under FCRA came from and how it was spent, but political parties and commercial companies without their income. Sources work.”
In 2018, the Lok Sabha passed a bill without discussion, exempting it from scrutiny of foreign funds received by political parties till 1976.
Ban on these organizations
There was an uproar in December 2021 when the FCRA’s registration for the Missionaries of Charity was cancelled. The charity was one of more than 900 Christian organizations removed from the FCRA list by the government.
Overall, around 6,000 organizations have been delisted by the Home Ministry till January 1 this year. According to the ministry, as of January 1, 2022, there are currently 16,829 organizations registered under FCRA in India.
The 6,000 organizations that have been removed from the list of registered organizations include Oxfam India, Common Cause, Jamia Millia Islamia, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, Kolkata-based Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute and India Islamic Cultural Centre.
Most of these entities were said to have not applied for renewal of the license, which was mandatory for receiving foreign funds. Whereas the licenses of 179 organizations were canceled in alleged violation of the Act after scrutiny of their documents.
Is the Foreign Contribution Act being misused?
Some human rights activists say that this law is being misused and it is being used to suppress the voice against the government.
Allahabad High Court lawyer Shashwat Anand says, “What happened to Amnesty International, what happened to Indira Jaising’s organization Lawyers Collective? And it happened to institutions too. What happens later is a different matter. But it is a different matter.” Process is punishment.”
Talking on the matter of journalist Zubair, Shashwat Anand says that if the case had to be done, it should have been done on Pravda and not on Zubair.
For example, he says, “If the crime is being committed by a company or organization or multinational company, then you cannot sue their promoters or founders without due process.”