Tripura anti-Muslim violence: SC notice to Union, State govts on plea seeking probe

The Supreme Court on Monday issued notice to the Union government and the Tripura government on a plea seeking a probe into the recent anti-Muslim violence in the northeast state.

The notices made returnable in 2 weeks, the bench shall hear the matter on 13 December.

The bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and AS Bopanna issued the notice on a plea by advocate Ehtesham Hashmi, who was booked under draconian UAPA along with other lawyers, journalists, and activists for their fact-finding exercises to the state and social media posts in the aftermath of the assaults on Muslims by Hindutva groups.

Hashmi said he was constrained to approach the top court to seek its urgent intervention “in respect of a series of hate crimes that took place between 13.10.2021 to 27.10.2021 in Tripura,” Live Law reported.

“We have shown the manner in which the police are investigating the matter, we have mentioned as to what they are not doing which they ought to have been doing- Not registering FIRs, sending 41a notices to lawyers who had produced that fact-finding report, invoking UAPA against journalists who had reported about this violence, not a single arrest has been made!,” Advocate Prashant Bhushan who appeared for Hashmi said to the top court.

The plea reads: “The said hate crimes were perpetrated by organized mobs and included damage to mosques, burning of business establishments owned by Muslims, organizing rallies shouting Islamophobic and genocidal hate slogans and delivering hate speeches targeting Muslims in various parts of Tripura.”

The plea alleged that instead of acting against the Hindutva groups, the police in BJP ruled state was “hand in glove with the perpetrators” of the crimes.

“The police and state authorities, instead of attempting to stop the violence, kept on claiming that there was no communal tension anywhere in Tripura and further denied reports of any mosque being set ablaze. However, eventually, police protection was extended to several mosques; orders were issued under Section 144 IPC; and compensation was also announced for the victims of the violence,” read the petition.

Hashmi told the top court that he personally visited the places where the hate crimes were committed to publish a fact-finding report, as per which, 12 Mosques were damaged; 9 shops owned by Muslim businessmen were damaged, and 3 houses owned by Muslims were vandalised. Read Maktoob’s report on fact-finding document here.

The targeted lawyer said to the Supreme Court of India to ensure compliance with the SC’s directions in Tehseen Poonawalla v. Union of India whereby principles were laid down for preventing and prosecuting all violent hate crimes. In Tehseen Poonawalla case, the Supreme Court had directed that action must be taken for ‘failure to act’ by the police, therefore making way for individual criminal responsibility for erring police officials for acts of ‘omission or commission’, the petition highlights.

Week-long assaults on Muslims

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.

Photos and videos accessed by Maktoob showed violent right-wing mobs who wear saffron clothes and carry swords raising anti-Muslim slogans during protests organised by Viswa Hindu Parishad, Hindu Jagran Manch, Bajrang Dal, and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

Safiqur Rahman, an activist associated with Students Islamic Organisation (SIO) Tripura earlier said to Maktoob that the Muslims in the state were living with fear during the week-long violence.

“The situation in Tripura is continuously deteriorating. Muslims are being threatened not to contact any media about the violence. Or else their life will be in danger. No state media is reporting these incidents,” Sultan, a local Muslim activist had said to Maktoob last in October this year.

UAPAs over reports, social media posts

More than 100 people including journalists, lawyers, Muslim scholars, politicians, and rights activists have been booked under draconian UAPA and several sections of IPC so far after they carried out fact-finding visits to violence-hit areas and shared the news on social media regarding Tripura violence against Muslims.

The first of these UAPA cases were filed against two lawyers, Ansar Indori and Mukesh, who were part of a fact-finding team investigating the violence against minorities in the state. Charges were filed against them after the fact-finding team’s report, ‘Humanity under attack in Tripura; #Muslim lives matter’, was published which highlighted the vandalisation of at least 12 mosques, nine shops and three houses belonging to Muslims.

In another complaint filed on 3 November, Tripura police had claimed 102 social media accounts were responsible for spreading “objectionable news items/statements,” and the account holders were charged under draconian UAPA.

The 102 social media account holders (68 Twitter profiles, 32 Facebook profiles, and 2 YouTubers) include Jamaat-e-Islami Hind vice president Mohammad Salim Engineer, former Delhi Minorities Commission chairman Zafarul Islam Khan, Popular Front of India general secretary Anis Ahmed, Students Islamic Organisation of India national president Salman Ahmad and activist Sharjeel Usmani.

The list also includes 5 journalists. The journalists are Maktoob’s Meer Faisal, freelance journalist Sartaj Alam, Newsclick’s senior editor Shyam Meera Singh, freelance journalist Arif Shah and London-based monthly newspaper Byline Times’s global correspondent C.J. Werleman.

On 4 November, four members of a Delhi-based Muslim NGO, Tahreek Farogh e Islam, who carried out a visit to Tripura was booked under draconian UAPA and sent to jail for 14 days. After 20 days of imprisonment, a court in Tripura granted bail to the four Muslim scholars.

On 17 November, the Supreme Court ordered that no coercive steps should be taken against lawyers Mukesh and Ansar Indori and journalist Shyam Meera Singh. The writ petition was filed by the trio seeking to quash the UAPA FIR.

International journalist unions like CPJ, several press clubs in the country, and many politicians including key Opposition leader Rahul Gandhi condemned Tripura police actions and urged the BJP government to immediately drop the terror investigation into journalists, activists, and Muslim leaders for their social media posts and fact-finding visits.