BUJ and DUJ Condemn Arrest of Journalists in Tripura; Welcome Bail; Demand Withdrawal of all Cases and End to Intimidation of Journalists covering Tripura violence
The Brihanmumbai Union of Journalists (BUJ) and the Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ) have strongly condemned the arrest of Samriddhi Sakunia and Swarna Jha, two journalists from HW News Network, by Tripura police on Nov 14, 2021. We welcome the grant of bail to the two women journalists but demand that all cases foisted on journalists and civil society activists for their reportage or social media posts be withdrawn forthwith. The intimidatory tactics by Tripura police must stop.
In a joint statement, the BUJ and DUJ have said that the arrest of the two journalists was conducted in a highly irregular and legally questionable manner. The journalists had tweeted earlier in the day that they were proceeding to Silchar in Assam to take a return flight to Delhi when they were stopped by Assam police, ostensibly on the directions of Tripura police, and lodged in Nilam Bazaar police station in Karimganj district of Assam. After protests from local journalists and lawyers that there were no arrest warrants, they were not furnished with copies of FIRs nor were they any women police officers present, they were initially shifted to a night shelter home and taken by Tripura police by road to Gomati district by road at 1 a.m. on Nov 15, 2021.
The journalists were earlier picked up in connection with an FIR lodged against their reportage on the alleged burning of a mosque in Pal Bazaar in Fatikroy in Unakoti district. Police said that, in their tweets and videos of victims of violence, they made false allegations that the Quran was burnt in a mosque. An FIR, lodged on the complaint of a local Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Kanchan Das, alleged that they had sought to ‘create hatred between religious groups by false fabrication, concealing documents etc”.
The journalists have been charged under IPC sections120 (B) (punishment for criminal conspiracy), 153(A) (offence of promoting disharmony, enmity or feelings of hatred between different groups on the grounds of religion) and 504 (intentional insult).
It is clear that police in Tripura have unleashed a concerted attack on all independent attempts to investigate and comment on the outbreak of communal violence in the state on Oct 26, 2021. The arrest of the two journalists follows the lodging of FIRs on Nov 4 under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, for promoting enmity between groups, forgery and provoking breach of peace against a team of lawyers, led by Supreme Court advocate Ehtesham Hashmi, and comprising members of Lawyers for Democracy, People’s Union for Civil Liberties and National Confederation of Human Rights Organisations, who were part of a fact-finding team to investigate the outbreak of violence.
Barely two days later, Tripura police filed charges under the UAPA against 102 social media accounts including those of journalists. Newsclick’s senior editor Shyam Meera Singh, Maktoob Media’s Meer Faisal, freelance journalists Sartaj Alam and Arif Shah and London-based monthly newspaper Byline Times’s global correspondent C.J. Werleman were among those charged. Police wrote to Twitter to block their accounts for, as Shyam Meera Singh said, merely writing three words: “Tripura is burning”.
The jittery action of the Tripura police to censor and silence information from the ground bodes ill for a democracy. These efforts to curb the freedom of journalists to collect and disseminate information must be stiffly resisted. All over the country, we are witnessing brutal attempts to criminalise journalists who are engaged in the pursuit of their legitimate professional duties. Journalists Aasif Sultan and Siddique Kappan continue under incarceration since August 2018 and October 2020 respectively. In the last year alone, at least fifty journalists have been arrested, face FIRs or have been assaulted for their reportage.
There has been a sustained assault on the rights of the media to report independently, without fear or favour. Independent news media houses are raided and their journalists face criminal charges. Journalists are weakened by mass retrenchments and layoffs. A blatantly partisan media pushes a selective and hate-driven agenda.
The BUJ and DUJ call upon all journalists to resist attempts to erode independent media and to join hands in solidarity against these attacks and arrests. The democratic right to freedom of expression and access to information is at stake.
Sujata Madhok , General Secretary, DUJ
Indra Kumar Jain, General Secretary, BUJ