Indian fact-checkers believed to be among front-runners for Nobel Peace Prize

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The Indian fact-checking duo Mohammed Zubair and Pratik Sinha are likely to be among the strongest candidates in the race to win the Nobel Peace Prize this year, according to a report by Time.

The two founders of the independent fact-checking website AltNews have been shortlisted for the prize through nominations made public by Norwegian lawmakers, predictions from bookmakers, and picks from the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO).

The Nobel Peace Prize will be awarded this Friday, after a week in which the winners of other Nobel prizes including in medicine and physics have been announced each day.

Zubair and Sinha have been running their fact-checking campaign, debunking and analysing misinformation in India, since 2017, and have particularly concentrated their efforts on fighting fake news reports stemming from religious tensions in the country.

Responding to reports that they may be in the running for a Nobel, Sinha told The Independent that such international recognition helps protect AltNews from any potential crackdown by the authorities.

Sinha said the first he heard of their nomination was from a flood of social media notifications on Wednesday morning after the Time report was published. It stated that the two journalists “have relentlessly been battling misinformation in India, where the Hindu nationalist BJP party has been accused of frequently stoking discrimination against Muslims”.

“Sinha and Zubair have methodologically debunked rumours and fake news circulating on social media and called out hate speech,” the report added.

It comes just a few months after Zubair was arrested over a 2018 tweet dubbed “highly provocative” by the police, which commented on the renaming of a hotel after the Hindu monkey god Hanuman.

His arrest in June came shortly after he highlighted objectionable comments made by a then spokesperson for the BJP about the Prophet Muhammad, leading to global condemnation of the party’s treatment of Muslims in India.

Zubair’s arrest marked “another low for press freedom in India, where the government has created a hostile and unsafe environment for members of the press reporting on sectarian issues”, said the American non-profit Committee To Protect Journalists.

Sinha said being shortlisted for a Nobel would be a good moment for Indian journalism as a whole, praising the small independent outlets that have refused to allow the government to control their output.

“Recognition always helps in many ways but most especially after the sort of ordeals we had to go through. Certain recognitions makes it difficult for the state to go after us, the reports of this nomination is especially one of them,” he told The Independent.

“Irrespective of the report by Time magazine, it is quite visible that independent outlets in India are doing good work. This must continue to uphold democracy,” he said.

A Reuters survey of Norwegian MPs, who provide the nominations for the Peace Prize, showed the list of contenders for this year’s award included Belarusian opposition politician Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, broadcaster David Attenborough, climate activist Greta Thunberg, Pope Francis, Tuvalu’s foreign minister Simon Kofe, and Myanmar’s National Unity Government of politicians in exile.

Ukraine wartime president Volodymyr Zelensky, the UN Refugee Agency, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Russian dissenter and Vladimir Putin critic Alexei Navalny have also been nominated for the prize.