Police said that the journalists shared videos, which are suspected to have been ‘doctored’, claiming that a prayer hall was burnt in Gomati district and a copy of the Quaran was damaged.
Two women journalists reporting on recent instances of alleged religious vandalism in Tripura were detained by the Assam Police at Nilambazaar in Karimganj district of Assam, close to the Tripura-Assam boundary, on Sunday. The journalists had been earlier booked under sections relating to spreading communal disharmony, committing insult with the intent of provoking breach of peace and criminal conspiracy.
The FIR against Samriddhi K Sakunia and Swarna Jha, based on a complaint by local Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) activists, has been registered at Fatikroy police station in Unakoti district.
In a tweet, Sakunia wrote, “We have been detained at the Nilambazar police station, Karimganj, Assam. We were informed by the officer-in-charge of Nilambazar PS that SP of Gomti District gave the orders for our detention.”
Speaking to indianexpress.com over phone, Jha said that they have been told they were being detained in connection with a second case registered in Tripura. “I heard a second FIR was registered against us in Gomati district. The local police station here doesn’t have further details. We don’t have much idea either. We are waiting for Tripura Police to come here and give us the details,” Jha said.
The Editors Guild of India has demanded the immediate release of the two journalists.
A senior police officer said, “Yes, they were detained. A team of Tripura Police officials from Dharmanagar has gone there (Nilambazaar) to bring them.”
The officer also said that a few videos posted by the journalists on social media had claimed that a prayer hall was burnt in Gomati district and a copy of the Quaran was damaged. The videos are suspected to have been “doctored”, he added.
In a tweet on November 11, Sakunia had written, “#Tripuraviolence Darga Bazaar: On 19th October at around 2:30 am, some unidentified people burnt down the mosque in Darga Bazaar area. People in the neighborhood are very upset with the fact that now they don’t have any place nearby to go and pray There’s no other masjid nearby.”
She also posted the video claiming that the prayer hall was burnt and a copy of the Quaran was damaged.
“Many people claimed the Quran was burnt during the acts of vandalism. We didn’t find any such evidence in the last 20 days. Investigation suggests that the video may have been doctored. We want to be sure if this was done in connivance with anyone or not. Therefore, the journalists have been detained,” the cop said.
He also said that Sakunia and Jha were asked to “hold talks” with the police in Agartala before leaving via Maharaja Bir Bikram (MBB) Airport as per their travel plan. However, the journalists reportedly changed their plans and travelled via Assam, where they were detained. “They were supposed to talk to us at Agartala before leaving. Instead, they preferred to go towards Silchar without informing us,” the police said.
A press release issued from the office of Tripura Police Director General VS Yadav claimed that the posts by Sakunia were complicit in fabricating facts and promoting a sense of hatred between communities.
“In this social media post, she posted a video of her visit to the half burned prayer hall damaged by mischievous fire in the house of one Rahamat Ali of Hurijala, PS Kakraban on 11/11/2021 try to claim that one holy Quran was burned in the incident occurred in the night of 19/10/2021 which refers to Kakraban PS Case No. 74/2021 U/S 436 IPC. This is contrary to the findings so far revealed in course of investigation as presence of no such damaged books/documents was brought to the notice of investigating officer and fire service staff who extinguished the fire,” the police statement said.
The statement further stated that a team of lawyers, who visited the state earlier, had made a similar claim with a “questionable photograph”. It added that people with “vested interests” were trying to flare up communal tension in the state.
Padmanabh Baruah, SP of Karimganj district, said that they were acting on the “request” of the Tripura Police. “We received an official request this morning that the two concerned people should be detained in connection to a case the Tripura Police have against them. Based on their request, we have detained them,” he said, adding that the Tripura Police would arrive in the evening to take the two back to Tripura for further investigation.
“Assam Police has no case against them. We have not seized anything from them, we have just held their car back from travelling further to Silchar. They are currently in Nilambazar PS,” he said.
The descriptions on the Twitter profiles of the two journalists state that they work with HW News Network. Sakunia’s profile states that she also writes for a few other media publications as well.
An official statement from HW News Network put out on social media said, “HW News Network Journalists Samriddhi Sakunia and Swarna Jha have been detained by Assam Police on their way to Silchar. Assam Police has said that they don’t have any case against our journalists but Tripura Police asked them to detain them.”
Earlier, in a series of tweets, the two journalists had claimed they were in Tripura for a ‘ground report’ on last month’s communal disturbances and had sought police permission as well as protection for the same. However, in the video tweets, they claimed the police collected their travel details citing grounds of security and later posted cops outside their hotel, preventing them from going anywhere. When the police later asked them to come in for questioning on ‘very short notice’, they consulted their lawyers and later the police served them a notice to appear again on November 21 here, the journalists claimed.
A copy of the FIR posted on Twitter by the journalists showed the complainant was one Kanchan Das of Kumarghat who claimed as “part of criminal conspiracy to destroy the communal harmony in Tripura as well as to malign the VHP and Tripura government, the accused intentionally imparted the name of VHP in that incident which could effect the harmony in between Hindu and Muslim community”.
Sakunia, in a video recording posted from the Twitter handle of Article 14, said they went to Unakoti district yesterday. “When we went to Pal Bazar mosque, the police were there with us during the entire time we were reporting and at Chowmuhani Bazar mosque too,” she said.
Sakunia said she received a call from a police officer at Dharmanagar at 8.30 am, seeking her travel details. “We asked why he needed them. They also took our Aadhaar card at the police station earlier, to which we asked why they would need our Aadhaar card as we had our ID cards with our numbers and addresses,” she added in the video. “We received three calls last night from the police at Dharmanagar, who said it was all for our security,” she said, claiming that at night they noticed “12-15 policemen… they came here around 9:30 and were standing but they didn’t tell us anything”.
Sakunia said she thought they were providing them security. However, while checking out today morning to leave for Agartala, she said the police informed them an FIR was registered against them at the local Fatikroy police station by a few VHP activists. “The case was filed stating that we had disturbed communal harmony and said we would have to come to Dharmanagar police station. We told them that we need a lawyer and without him we can’t move,” Sakunia added.
Jha, in another video, said they went down to the local police station after their coverage to take bytes from officials but could not meet them. They later received a call from Dharmanagar police station in the evening asking about their travel details, which they provided after consulting with lawyers. “We asked how they could summon us at such a short notice. We told them that to change the appearing date to November 21 and they changed it. But there is a question – is doing ground reporting a criminal offence?” Swarna asked in her video.
Meanwhile, reacting to the incident, Congress president Rahul Gandhi tweeted, “The BJP system is busy killing journalism. But when has the truth stopped in the face of lies? #Tripura #NoFear”.
Tripura CPI(M) secretary Jitendra Chaudhury said the incident is a case of encroachment upon the Constitutional right of freedom of speech and expression. “If there is anything wrong or if they have attempted to breach peace, there are sections of law that can be applied. At the behest of VHP, they can’t be charged and arrested. This is intolerance and very wrong,” he said.
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