Two Delhi-based journalists Samriddhi Sakunia and Swarna Jha who were in Tripura covering the recent violence, have been booked for disturbing communal harmony and maligning the right-wing organisation Vishwa Hindu Parishad. They were in Tripura to report on the recent violence and attacks on Muslim establishments there.
The two journalists were leaving their hotel room on Sunday morning to take a train when the police stopped them from leaving. An FIR has been lodged against them at the Fatikroy police station in Unakoti district.
Sakunia and Jha were reporting for the HW News, an independent news website. They have been booked for criminal conspiracy, provocation with intent to cause riot, provoking breach of peace.
In a video from the hotel, Sakunia said that while they were reporting on November 13, the police stayed with them throughout after they sought security from the local police station in Unakoti district.
"After we returned to our hotel room, we received a call from the police seeking our transport details for security purpose," Sakunia said in the video. She further said that at around 8:30pm, 10-12 cops came to the hotel where they were staying. "They did not say anything and we thought they were here for our security," she added.
But when the two were about to check out from the hotel on Sunday morning, the cops stopped them saying that a case has been filed against them by the VHP for disturbing the communal harmony.
Sakunia said there were around 18 security personnel, including CRPF and police, in the hotel lobby who weren't allowing them to leave. She also shared a copy of the FIR on Twitter.
"A female officer named Kanta wanted to know my Aadhaar details and how I'm travelling and where I plan to go. She did not divulge why the police needed this information. I refused, saying we can't do so without the permission of my editors," Sakunia was quoted as saying by the Newslaundry.
According to Newslaundry report, a person named Kancha Das filed the complaint against the two journalists accusing them of maligning the image of the VHP and Bajrang Dal by 'falsely imparting' their name in the case related to the burning down of a mosque in Unakoti's Paul Bazaar on October 24. Das also alleged that they "delivered instigating speech against Hindus and the Tripura government" on November 13 when they were visiting "Muslim houses" in Fatikroy.
Meanwhile, the DIGIPUB News India Foundation has condemned the action taken against the journalists in Tripura. In a statement, the DIGIBUB said the 'harassment' of the two journalists in Tripura was an attack on the freedom of the press and also an individual's right to privacy. "This is not for the first time that the journalists have been intimidated for doing their jobs in this country, many journalists face criminal investigations, arrest and jail terms as India faces sharp degradation in press freedom," the DIGIPUB said.
The police have been tightening the noose around journalists post violence in Tripura. The Tripura Police have booked 102 social media account holders under terror charges for spreading "objectionable news items/ statements". The police also served notices to Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube asking them to delete these accounts and provide particulars of the individuals operating them. These account holders include various journalists and activists.
Tripura has been on the edge lately amid reports of communal tensions as establishments of Muslims came under attack from the Hindu right-wing parties.
The violence in Tripura began weeks after the reports of Durga Puja pandals and temples in Bangladesh being vandalised surfaced last month. The Hindu minority in Bangladesh came under attack after social media posts showed copy of the Quran placed at the feet of an idol went viral.
To protest the violence in Bangladesh, right-wing organisations like the VHP and Hindu Jagran Manch (HJM) in Tripura carried out rallies. The rallies turned violent and attacks on Muslim establishments, including shops, shrines and houses, were reported from several parts of the state.
However, the Centre on Saturday snubbed reports of 'communal tensions' in Tripura. The Ministry of Home Affairs urged people to maintain calm and not believe fake news. The statement also maintained that no mosque was damaged in Tripura in the recent past. "There is no reported case of damage of the structure of any Masjid in Tripura in the recent past. There is no report of simple or grievous injury or rape or death of any person in these incidents as alleged in some social media posts," the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said in a statement.