India journalist arrested over Muslim yoga ban report

The first World Yoga Day was held in cities worldwide last June. Photo: AFP FILE

A journalist in India is facing charges over a report he wrote saying Muslims were banned from being yoga teachers under government policy.

Pushp Sharma's report appeared in March in the Milli Gazette, a newspaper aimed at India's Muslim community.

It quoted what was said to be a government document that banned Muslims from travelling abroad to teach yoga for last year's World Yoga Day.

Sharma faces charges of fabricating the document, which he denies.

His report was based on what he said was an official reply from a government ministry that promotes yoga and ayurveda medicine.

The report said that, after several queries to the ministry, it replied saying that none of the 3,841 Muslims who had applied to become yoga teachers had been hired up to October 2015.

A letter printed alongside the article, purporting to be from the ministry, said that 711 Muslims had applied to travel abroad as instructors during the first World Yoga Day last June, but none was selected "as per government policy".

READ MORE: Indian Muslim body says Yoga unacceptable

The letter does not include a government letterhead and contains a number of spelling mistakes, including an incorrect spelling of the word "yoga".

Prime Minister Narendra Modi led events on World Yoga Day in Delhi last year. Photo: AP

The Milli Gazette confirmed Sharma was arrested on Saturday morning. Its editor Zafarul-Islam Khan said the charges were "clear attempts to stifle the freedom of the press".

Police in Delhi told NDTV that Sharma was facing charges of "cheating, forgery and promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion or race".

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a yoga enthusiast who says he daily practises the ancient Indian art, lobbied the United Nations to declare 21 June World Yoga Day. The first event was held last year.

His support for yoga, and creation of the new yoga ministry, was criticised as "a campaign to enforce Hindu rituals on all non-Hindus," one Muslim official told Reuters last year.

After opposition from Muslim groups, a series of Hindu practices were dropped from the first World Yoga Day events in India.

In response, a Hindu priest and MP for Modi's BJP party, Yogi Adityanath, said anyone who opposed taking part should "live in a closed room or must jump into the sea".