Two women journalists, who were reporting on the communal violence in Tripura and were arrested in Assam’s Karimganj on charges of instigating communal tension through “false news”, have been granted bail by a court in Tripura’s Gomati district, news agency ANI reported. This came hours after two cases were filed against them within 24 hours.
Samriddhi Sakunia, 21, and Swarna Jha, 25, reporters with HW News Network, an independent news website, 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.
Sakunia and Jha have been accused of maligning the VHP and the BJP-led Tripura government, and a criminal conspiracy to instigate communal tension in the region. Tripura police also claimed that the and other parts of Maharashtra was a fallout of fabricated information.
The arrest reportedly came hours after the two journalists claimed that Tripura police and central armed police forces personnel came to their hotel in Dharmanagar in North Tripura district early Sunday morning and “intimidated” them.
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). The second FIR was filed in Gomati district on Sunday under IPC sections 153A (promoting religious enmity), 153B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration), 120(B) (criminal conspiracy), 193 (false evidence), 204 (destruction of document or electronic record to prevent its production as evidence) and 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace) at Kakraban police station.
Newslaundry reached out to Gomati SP Lucky Chauhan for comment but did not receive a response. Tripura IGP Arindam Nath’s phone was switched off.
Karimganj SP Padmanabh Baruah had on Saturday told Newslaundry that "we got a written request from Tripura police, specifically Kakraban police station in Gomati district in Tripura" to detain the two journalists while they were on their way to Silchar.
In a press release on November 14, the Tripura police claimed that Sakunia had tried “to claim” that the Islamic holy book Quran was burnt “in a “mischievous fire” in a “prayer hall” on October 19. “This is contrary to the findings so far revealed in course of investigation as presence of no such damage (of) books/documents was brought to the notice of investigating officer and fire service staff who extinguished the fire.”
“Taking cue from the recent state of violence at Amravati and other parts of Maharashtra as a repercussion of communal incident,” the police added, “it has become clear that some vested interest is trying to flare up the communal incident in Tripura and the investigating officer felt it wise to lodge a suo motu complaint for creating hatred between religious group by false fabrication concealing documents etc.”
The HW News Network said the two journalists were arrested by the Tripura police at 12.55 am today in Assam’s Karimganj. They will be taken back to Udaipur in Tripura’s Gomati district and produced before a magistrate’s court.
The organisation said that advocate Pijush Biswas, appearing on behalf of the website, will press for immediate bail and release of the journalists.
Sakunia earlier 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 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.
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.
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”.
This report has been updated.
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