“Concerned by the reports of draconian criminal laws being used to prevent media from reporting on acts of violence in the state of Tripura, the Editors Guild of India is sending a three member fact finding team to Agartala,” said a statement issued by the Guild on Sunday.
The three-member team includes Sanjay Kapoor, editor of Hard News and general secretary of the Guild, as well as editors Bharat Bhushan and Pradip Phanjoubam. The trio will meet government officials, media and members of the civil society in Tripura, the statement added.
In October, Tripura was witness to severe communal violence that was triggered by events that happened earlier the same month in Bangladesh. During Durgapuja celebrations in mid-October, communal violence had broken out in parts of Bangladesh and several pandals and Hindu temples were vandalised, resulting in the death of at least seven people. Following this, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), an affiliate of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), decided to organise a rally in Tripura, in protest. During this rally on October 26, several mosques and shops were vandalised.
Following this, Tripura police booked 102 social media users, including several journalists, activists and lawyers under the harsh anti-terror law, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), for tweeting and reporting about the violence in the state.
Journalist Shyam Meera Singh, one of the journalists booked under UAPA, told Silverscreen India that he was booked under the stringent law for merely tweeting “Tripura is burning.”
On November 7, the Editors Guild of India had issued a statement expressing “deep shock” over Tripura Police’s action and called it 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.”
“This is an extremely disturbing trend, where such a harsh law, where in the process of investigation and bail applications are extremely rigorous and overbearing, is being used for merely reporting on and protesting against communal violence,” the statement read.
Stressing that governments cannot use stringent laws like UAPA to suppress reporting on such incidents and attack press freedom, the Guild demanded that the state government conduct an “objective and fair” investigation into the circumstances of the riots instead of penalising journalists and activists.
Later, two women journalists – Samriddhi Sakunia and Swarna Jha – who reported on the Tripura violence were also arrested for allegedly “maligning the image of Tripura government, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal.” They were initially detained by the Assam Police while on their way to Silchar, Assam after the Tripura Police registered multiple cases against them.
The Editors Guild of India once again condemned this move and demanded the immediate release of the two journalists. Sakunia and Jha were subsequently granted bail.
The Supreme Court, on November 19, also ordered that “no coercive action shall be taken” against Singh and two other lawyers who were booked under the UAPA.
Meanwhile, on Monday, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept the civic polls in Tripura bagging 217 of 222 seats in the elections held on November 25. The CPM won in three seats, while the Trinamool Congress and TIPRA Motha bagged one seat each.