Tripura: Journalists arrested for reporting anti-Muslim violence, granted bail

Samriddhi K Sakunia and Swarna Jha, two journalists at HW News Network, who were arrested by Tripura Police while covering the anti-Muslim violence in Tripura, have been granted bail by the Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM) Court in the Gomati.

They were arrested by Tripura Police on Monday after being detained in Assam on Sunday following a case was filed against them by the Tripura police for “spreading communal disharmony.”

“Our reporters Ms Samriddhi Sakunia and Ms Swarna Jha have been arrested by Tripura Police today at around 12:55 AM from shelter home in Assam’s Karimganj after securing their transit remand. They are being taken back to Tripura where they will be produced before Udaipur magistrate court,” HW News Network, their employer tweeted Monday morning.

“Senior Advocate Pijush Biswas shall be personlly appearing for them on behalf of HW News Network. We are pressing for immediate bail and release of our journalists,” the news organisation had tweeted.

PTI news agency reported that a senior police official told the agency that the journalists posted on social media that a mosque was burnt in Gomati district and a copy of the Quran was damaged.

“Tripura Police is not giving a copy of FIR. They are trying to take us back to Tripura (Kakraband, Gomati district) from Assam at night and refusing to talk to our lawyer. We are really scared. We are being held hostage in our own country,” Samriddhi earlier said in a video message.

The first information report filed by the Tripura Police in Fatikroy police station was based on a complaint by a Kanchan Das who belong to Vishva Hindu Parishad, a Hindutva group that was behind the week-long assaults on minorities in the state.

The complainant said that the journalists were a part of the criminal conspiracy to damage the communal harmony of Tripura and malign the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Tripura’s BJP government. He also alleged that Samriddhi and Swarna made an “instigating speech” against the Hindu community and the Tripura government while visiting people from the Muslim community in the Paul Bazaar area.

The case was registered under IPC Sections 120B (Punishment of criminal conspiracy), 153A (Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence), and 504 (Intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace), according to the FIR accessed by Maktoob.

Samriddhi Sakunia, who had been live-tweeting and covering news of the violence in the state since the beginning of violence, said that she will be putting out a statement soon iterating all the intimidation she had to face while covering the Tripura violence soon.

Samriddhi and Swarna, meanwhile, had alleged intimidation by the Tripura Police and have said that they were stopped from leaving their hotel early in the morning on Sunday.

The DIGIPUB News India Foundation, an umbrella body of digital media organisations, condemned in the strongest terms the intimidation against Samriddhi Sakunia and Swarna Jha.

The Editors Guild of India had denounced police action against the journalists and demanded their immediate release. 

Tripura’s BJP government and state police have been claiming that there was no law and order problem in the state and no mosques were burnt by Hindutva groups despite media including Maktoob reported several anti-Muslim crimes across the northeast state.

Maktoob reported more than two dozen hate crimes against Muslims including mosque vandalisation, attacks against Muslim houses, shops, and hawkers, molesting Muslim women, and anti-Muslim and genocidal slogans during the rallies.