New Delhi: In connection with their reportage of Tripura violence, two journalists – Samridhi Sakunia and Swarna Jha of the HW News Network – have been named in a first information report (FIR) at the Kumarghat police station in Tripura. The two journalists have been reporting from the ground this week and investigating the instances of reported vandalism and attacks on mosques in the state in connection with the violence that had gripped the region since October.
While the two journalists were initially allowed by the Tripura police to leave the state, they were later detain in Assam, apparently at the behest of cops in Tripura.
In a statement, the HW News Network said that though the Assam police do not have a case against Sakunia or Jha, they have been asked by the Tripura police do detain them. “This is sheer harassment and targeting of the press on the part of Tripura police and Tripura government to suppress us from from reporting the facts of the case,” the statement read.
According to reports, Das’s complaint claimed that the reporters made an “instigating speech” against the Hindu community and the Tripura government while visiting people from the Muslim community in the Paul Bazaar area. They had also blamed the VHP and Bajrang Dal for burning a mosque in the Paul Bazaar area, the complaint says.
The journalists were a part of the “criminal conspiracy” to damage the communal harmony of Tripura and malign the VHP and the Tripura government, Das claimed.
The reporters, who were in a hotel in Dharmanagar, explained what transpired to The Wire. Sakunia said, “The police arrived yesterday at the hotel around 10:30 pm and served the FIR copy in the morning at 5:30 am. We were supposed to leave for the capital Agartala but we were not allowed to move despite full cooperation.”
Sakunia and Swarna have now been allowed to leave their hotel and have been asked to report to the state on November 21.
Sakunia stated, “We are being intimidated and threatened because we are highlighting what transpired on the ground. Is journalism a crime? I am being intimidated for doing my job and documenting the violence.”
Reportedly, the police collected transport details of both reporters, insisted on getting their Aadhaar card information on the pretext of providing “security”. It is only when they were initiating the checkout process that they found out that an FIR had been registered against them.
The notice states that a case is being filed “against you & others (sic) miscreants” and that there were “reasonable grounds to question you”.
Confirming the charges against the reporters, sub-divisional police officer (SDPO) Kumarghat Gamanjay Reang, told The Wire, “Based on an FIR, today we went to meet the journalists who were staying in a hotel in Dharmanagar subdivision of Tripura’s North district. We took their permission and spoke with them for basic information. We served them notice. They requested us to give them some time to appear with their advocate. So permission was given. And, I guess they already left [the state].”
In a statement, journalist Swarna Jha said, “We have been in Tripura for the past three days. Police accompanied us all day. We did not get an official byte from the police. We got a call asking for our travelling details, we were asked to share details on the pretext of security reasons. We found out early this morning that a complaint had been registered against us by the members of VHP, is reporting from the ground a criminal offence?”
Crackdown on critics
Reportedly, the Tripura police are contesting claims of the reportage done by Sakunia highlighting the vandalisation and the burning down of mosques in the state. The police have also cracked down on activists and lawyers who have reported about alleged vandalism on mosques in the state.
Only last week, Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) charges were filed against two lawyers and 102 Twitter users for posting information about the violence in Tripura.
The two lawyers were a part of a team that had authored a fact-finding report. Ansar Indori, secretary of the National Confederation of Human Rights and Mukesh, who works for the Union for Civil Liberties, have been charged with Section 13 of UAPA.
Both lawyers have also been charged under IPC Sections 120 (B), 153 (A), 153 (B), 469, 471, 503, 504, among others, which include charges of criminal conspiracy, promoting enmity between groups, forgery and provoking breach of peace.
The advocates were a part of a four-member fact-finding team which had visited the state on October 29-30 in order to document the tensions in the region following reports of anti-Muslim violence in the state.
The report, titled ‘Humanity under attack in Tripura; Muslim lives matter’, documented the vandalisation of at least 12 mosques, nine shops and three houses belonging to Muslim families, allegedly during protests that were held in 51 places in Tripura over instances of attacks on Hindu minorities in Bangladesh. The report released by the lawyers had also demanded the creation of an inquiry committee headed by a retired high court judge and had asked for immediate action against
Over 100 people were charged under UAPA for protesting, or even merely mentioning, the recent communal violence in the state’s northern districts on different social media platforms.
Cases have been filed against 68 Twitter account holders, 32 Facebook accounts, and two YouTube accounts. The cases, first filed by the West Agartala police station, have now been transferred to the state’s crime branch.