The Delhi-based journalists were reporting on the violence that swept through the northeastern state in October.
The Digipub News India Foundation, an association of 11 digital news organisations, on Sunday condemned in “the strongest terms” the “sustained pattern of intimidation against journalists of HW News Network”.
This came a day after the Tripura police filed an FIR against two Delhi-based journalists of the independent news website﹘who were reporting on the communal violence in the state﹘for “maligning” the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the BJP-led state government.
“Digipub strongly deplores the harassment of the two journalists by the Tripura police who invaded their privacy by showing up at their hotel and demanding their Aadhaar numbers and transport details, ostensibly to provide ‘security’, a contention that soon turned out to be false,” the foundation said in a statement.
“This is not only a violation of the freedom of the press but also a breach of the fundamental right to privacy. This is not the first time that journalists have been intimated for doing their jobs in this country. Many journalists face criminal investigations, arrests and jail terms, as India faces a sharp degradation in press freedom.”
Samriddhi Sakunia, 21, and Swarna Jha, 25, were booked under three sections of the Indian Penal Code – 120B (criminal conspiracy), 153 (provocation with intent to cause riot) and 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace).
On November 12, Sakunia and Jha had reported on a mosque that was torched in Tripura’s Gomti district. They arrived in Dharmanagar on Saturday to report on alleged targeting of another mosque and properties owned by Muslims in Panisagar subdivision, the region hit by violence spurred during a VHP rally on October 26.
A complaint was lodged by one Kanchan Das, who alleged that the two journalists “delivered instigating speech against Hindus and the Tripura government” while visiting “Muslim houses” in Fatikroy on November 13. He claimed that Sakunia had “falsely imparted” the names of VHP and Bajrang Dal in connection with the torching of a mosque in Unakoti’s Paul Bazaar on October 24, which had maligned the organisation and the state government. This, Das alleged, was part of a “criminal conspiracy” to “destroy communal harmony in Tripura”.
Till 9 am today, the police kept Sakunia and Jha at their hotel lobby in Dharmanagar in North Tripura district. They have been asked to visit the Fatikroy police station with their lawyers on November 21.
Sakunia, who spoke to Newslaundry over the phone, claimed that they were surrounded by 15 police officers and central armed police forces personnel, of which three were women.
“I started getting calls from the police at 7.30 pm last evening,” Sakunia said. “A female officer named Kanta wanted to know my Aadhaar details and how I’m travelling and where I plan to go. She did not divulge why the police needed this information. I refused, saying we can’t do so without the permission of my editors.”
Sakunia and Jha are not the only mediapersons to face heavy-handedness by authorities in Tripura. On November 3, Masihuzamma Ansari, a Delhi-based reporter with the news website India Tomorrow, claimed that he was taken to the West Agartala police station and interrogated for two hours. On the same day, the police station had also booked journalist Shyam Meera Singh, among 70 others, for tweeting “Tripura is burning” under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, or UAPA.
In a statement, the Editors Guild of India had noted that the police action against Singh and others was an “extremely disturbing trend” where a “harsh law...is being used for merely reporting on and protesting against communal violence”.
On Sunday, Digipub stated, “In a country where the media are considered the fourth pillar of democracy, journalists must be allowed to hold the government to account without fear of intimation and punitive action.”
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