Hours after being booked by Tripura Police while covering anti-Muslim violence in the northeast state, HW News Network journalists – Samriddhi Sakunia and Swarna Jha – have now been reportedly detained by the Assam police.
In a tweet, Sakunia said that they had been detained at the Nilambazar police station in Karimganj.
“We were informed by the officer in-charge of Nilambazar PS [police station] that SP l[superintendent of police] of Gomti district [in Tripura] gave the orders for our detention,” Sakunia tweeted.
“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 said in a video message.
As per a statement put out by HW News, the employer of the journalists, the duo were on their way to Silchar when they were detained.
“Assam Police has said that they don’t have any case against our journalists but Tripura Police asked them to detain them… Assam police says our journalists will be taken back to Tripura for further questioning,” the network wrote.
The statement by the network said that section 46 of the Code of Criminal Procedure does not allow women to be arrested after sunset or before sunrise without the order of the magistrate. It said that this procedure was not followed by the police.
“This is sheet harassment and targeting of the press on the part of Tripura Police and Tripura Government to suppress us from reporting facts of the case,” reads the statement.
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.
Sakunia and Jha, meanwhile, have alleged intimidation by the Tripura Police and have said that they were stopped from leaving their hotel early in the morning.
“The police arrived yesterday at the hotel around 10:30 at night and served the FIR copy in the morning 5:30am. We were supposed to leave for the capital Agartala but have been not allowed to move despite full cooperation. There are around 16-17 police deployed outside our hotel,” she said Sunday morning before leaving from Tripura.
The DIGIPUB News India Foundation, an umbrella body of digital media organisations, condemned in the strongest terms the intimidation against Sammriddhi Sakunia and Swarna Jha.
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.
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.
Following this, Tripura police arrested four members of a Delhi-based Muslim NGO, Tahreek Farogh e Islam, who carried out a visit to Tripura. All four who were charged under UAPA were sent to 14 days in police custody by Dharmanagar Court.
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.
Three days ago, Shyam Meera Singh along with two lawyers Mukesh, Ansar Indori- booked under UAPA over fact-finding report on Tripura violence- have moved the Supreme Court for the quashing of the FIR filed against them under the draconian UAPA
The Supreme Court agreed to an early listing of the plea.
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.