A day after the Tripura police booked two journalists for “maligning” the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the BJP-led state government, they were detained by the Assam police in Karimganj district enroute Silchar in connection with another case filed on Sunday.
Samriddhi Sakunia, 21, and Swarna Jha, 25, Delhi-based reporters with HW News Network, an independent news website, were reporting in Tripura. They had on Friday on a mosque that was torched in Tripura’s Gomati district. They arrived in Dharmanagar on Saturday to report on the 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.
The two journalists were reportedly detained by the Assam police at the Neelam Bazaar police station in Karimganj district on Sunday. “There has been a second case against us in Tripura’s Gomati district,” Sakunia told Newslaundry. “The Tripura police is on their way to Neelam Bazar.’
The HW News Network stated, “The Assam police has said that they don’t have any case against our journalists but Tripura police asked them to detain them.”
Karimganj SP Padmanabh Baruah said, “We got a written request from Tripura police, specifically Kakraban police station in Gomati district in Tripura. They said these two individuals were required in connection with a case in Gomati and that they passed through your jurisdiction, so please detain them since we need them for an investigation. We detained them and the Tripura police team arrived at 5.30 pm. We are now in the process of handing them over to the Tripura police. We haven’t arrested anyone.”
The first FIR was lodged at the Fatikroy police station in Unakoti district on Saturday under three sections of the Indian Penal Code – 120B (criminal conspiracy), 153 A (provocation with intent to cause riot) and 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace).
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 told Newslaundry that police officers and CRPF personnel arrived at her hotel at 10.30 pm on Saturday. “When we were checking out around 5.30 am today, they wanted to move Swarna and I to the local police station for questioning,” she said. “They claim they want to interrogate me on video. When I told them I wanted legal counsel, they insisted, more than once, that all this could be done without us speaking to a lawyer.”
The HW News Network stated, “Section 46 of the CrPC, 1973 states that women cannot be arrested after sunset and before sunrise. The provisions of sub-section (4) of Section 46 of the CrPC, 1973 mandates that, if the police want to arrest a woman after sunset, they have to seek prior permission of the magistrate. This wasn’t followed by Tripura police.”
“Assam police says that our journalists will be taken back to Tripura for further questioning despite police allowing them to leave the hotel and giving seven days notice to record a statement. This is sheer harassment and targeting of the press on the part of Tripura police and Tripura government to suppress us from reporting the facts of the case.”
Sakunia, who earlier spoke to Newslaundry over the phone from Tripura, claimed that they were surrounded by around 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 am 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 was active on Twitter days after the Panisagar violence, sharing on the situation in Unakoti and North Tripura districts. The official handle of the Tripura police even her to not post “misleading information without verification” on a tweet about an alleged assault on a Muslim man in Dharmanagar.
Police and CRPF personnel at the journalists’ hotel in Dharmanagar on November 13.
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, 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”.
“The Guild is of the opinion that this is an attempt by the state government to deflect attention away from its own failure to control majoritarian violence, as well as to take action against the perpetrators of this.”
North Tripura SP Bhanupada Chakraborty told Newslaundry that he was unaware of the matter. “I do not know anything about this,” he said. “It’ll be better if you spoke to SP Unakoti.”
Multiple calls to Ratiranjan Debnath, SP Unakoti, went unanswered. Newslaundry sent him a set of questions over WhatsApp. This story will be updated if we receive a response.
Gomati SP did not respond to requests for comment by Newslaundry.
Dhruba Nath, the sub divisional police officer in Gomati's Kakraban, said he will update Newslaundry about the nature of the second FIR against Sakunia and Jha. Several calls to him remained unanswered.
Meanwhile, the Digipub News India Foundation, an association of 11 digital news organisations, on Sunday in “the strongest terms” the “sustained pattern of intimidation against journalists of HW News Network”.
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