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New Delhi: The Tripura police’s arrest of two journalists – Samridhi Sakunia and Swarna Jha, of the HW News Network – on Sunday, November 14 drew criticism from several corners including journalist bodies, activists and politicians.
Appearing before a Tripura court in the state’s Gomati district on Monday, Sakunia and Jha were granted bail in the case but may have to remain in the state until police give the go ahead.
Sakunia and Jha were named in an FIR filed at the state’s Kumarghat police station for their reportage on the ongoing communal violence in the state. After initially being allowed to leave Tripura, the two reporters were detained in Assam on Sunday, supposedly at the behest of the Tripura police. Later that night, they were taken back to Tripura.
The FIR was filed by Kanchan Das, a leader of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) under IPC Sections 120 (B) (criminal conspiracy), 153 (A) (promoting enmity between different groups) and 504 (insulting, thereby giving provocation to break the public peace), as per a copy of the FIR shared by Sakunia on Twitter.
VHP filed complaint against me and @Jha_Swarnaa FIR has been filed under the section: 120(B), 153(A)/ 504.
Copy of FIR pic.twitter.com/a8XGC2Wjc5
— Samriddhi K Sakunia (@Samriddhi0809) November 14, 2021
Das also allegedly accused the two reporters of “blaming” the VHP and the Bajrang Dal for burning a mosque in the state.
The Editors Guild of India (EGI) condemned the actions of Tripura police and demanded the release of the two journalists. While the Guild did not issue a statement itself, it retweeted the statement put out by HW.
— Editors Guild of India (@IndEditorsGuild) November 14, 2021
The Foundation for Media Professionals (FMP) in a statement issued on Sunday condemned the filing of the FIR, noting that Sakunia (21) and Jha (25) were rendering a “public service” by bringing the instances of communal trouble in the state to light.
The FMP’s statement also made mention of the 102 members of civil society (including journalists and activists) who were booked by the Tripura police earlier under IPC sections as well as the notorious Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). It went on to note that, “The point of a free media is to bring to light problems and issues that may otherwise escape the notice of responsible authorities,” and that the recent trend to arrest journalists for doing their jobs poses danger to “governance and Indian democracy.”
The Guwahati Press Club, expressing concerns over the arrests, demanded an unbiased inquiry into the matter. In a statement undersigned by president Manoj Nath and secretary Sanjoy Ray, the Club expressed relief that Sakunia and Jha were granted bail, noting that the freedom of the press should not be curbed at any cost.
The DIGIPUB News India Foundation posted a similar statement on Twitter condemning the Tripura police’s decision to detain the two young journalists, describing them as “not only a violation of the freedom of the press but also a breach of the fundamental right to privacy.”
DIGIPUB condemns in the strongest terms the intimidation against journalists of HW News Network. pic.twitter.com/yq2mLMI0GO
— DIGIPUB News India Foundation (@DigipubIndia) November 14, 2021
A joint statement by the Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ) and the BrihanMumbai Union of Journalists (BUJ) welcomed the grant of bail, but also demanded 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.”
The Indian Women’s Press Corps (IWPC), too, contended that the decision to detain the two journalists was egregious and also issued a statement expressing their solidarity with Sakunia and Jha, stating that, “The image of the government is not a journalist’s concern. Facts and the truth are their concern.”
Indian Women’s Press Corps stands in solidarity with Samriddhi K.Sakunia and Swarna Jha,the two women journalists who have been harassed, intimidated and detained for doing their job.IWPC demands that the police immediately release them & allow them to do their job without fear. pic.twitter.com/BnVWARqYgH
— Indian Women’s Press Corps (@iwpcdelhi) November 14, 2021
Several journalists individually posted tweets of outrage.
In thoughts with Samriddhi K.Sakunia and Swarna Jha, the two women journalists who have been harassed, intimidated and detained for doing their job. It will be a long and an uncertain night for them. Hoping that they are released soon.
— Tabeenah Anjum (@TabeenahAnjum) November 14, 2021
— Rituparna Chatterjee (@MasalaBai) November 15, 2021
Declaring the reporters’ arrest as a part of the ruling BJP’s “open war on democracy,” Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation (CPI-ML) leader Dipankar Bhattacharya, too, took to Twitter to extend support to the two reporters.
After serving #UAPA notice to Delhi lawyers, the BJP governments of #Tripura and #Assam have now joined hands to intimidate and detain two women journalists, Samriddhi Sakunia and Swarna Jha for reporting on #TripuraViolence. It’s an open war on democracy. https://t.co/EZdlK99lUH
— Dipankar (@Dipankar_cpiml) November 14, 2021