Two journalists arrested in Assam for reporting on communal violence in Tripura

The two were named in an FIR at a Tripura police station based on a complaint filed by a VHP activist, against a story about a mosque that was burnt.
Swarna Jha and Samruddhi Sakunia, who were detained for a story
Swarna Jha and Samruddhi Sakunia, who were detained for a story
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In yet another instance of the state clamping down on journalists, two Delhi-based journalists who came to Tripura to report on the recent communal incidents in the state, were detained by the Assam police at Karimganj's Neelam Bazar close to the Assam-Tripura border on Sunday, November 14, police officials in both states confirmed. Samriddhi Sakunia (21) and Swarna Jha (25), journalists with the independent news website HW News Network, were named in a first information report (FIR) at Fatikroy Police Station of Tripura on Sunday based on a complaint filed by a Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) activist, alleging that they had maligned the image of Tripura government by their reporting, according to a statement by HW News. The duo were first detained in a hotel in Agartala, and then allowed to leave. Later, the Tripura police detained them from Assam, and were kept at a government-run shelter home for women for the night and will be handed over to the Tripura police on Monday morning, an Assam police officer said. UPDATE: Journalists arrested for reporting on Tripura violence granted bail

The two journalists were held by the Assam Police on their way to the Silchar airport later on Sunday, with Assam Police informing them that they were being held as the Tripura Police asked (Assam Police) to detain them (the duo). The journalists were formally arrested at 1 am on November 15. 

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.” A senior police official in Agartala said that they were detained on the basis of requests by Tripura police and a team of Tripura police officials from Dharmanagar has gone to Nilambazaar to bring them.

The VHP's complaint is regarding a story that the two journalists were reporting on, about a mosque that was burnt in Gomati district and a copy of the Quran was damaged. Police claimed that the videos uploaded by her were doctored, a claim that the journalists have denied. In the video, local residents can be heard speaking about the mosque and the Quran.

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.”

A press release issued from the office of Tripura Police Director General VS Yadav claimed that the posts by Sakunia were not true and promoted a sense of hatred between communities. The statement further said that no damaged books or documents were brought to the notice of officials.

Widespread condemnation of arrest

The detention of the young journalists has invited widespread condemnation from the fraternity, who have questioned the police for taking action against two journalists who were doing their job.

Bodies such as the Editors Guild of India (EGI), the Indian Women's Press Corps (IWPC), Network of Women in Media India (NWMI) and Digipub News India Foundation have condemned the detention of the two young journalists. "Editors Guild condemns this action and demands their immediate release and restoration of their freedom to travel," the EGI said in a statement.

The IWPC also condemned the police action against the two journalists and demanded that they should be allowed to do their job without any fear.

"We understand that the two women journalists, Ms Sakuni and Ms Jha, are to be taken back to Tripura for questioning," the IWPC said, adding, "We demand that they be released immediately and be allowed to do their job.

The NWMI has demanded that the FIR against the two journalists be withdrawn, and that it “Views this spate of legal actions as an attempt to intimidate and silence those who seek to uncover the truth about the communal violence in this state.”

Digipub has said that it condemns the “sustained pattern of intimidation against journalists” in the “strongest terms”. 

Around October 14, reports emerged from Bangladesh about violence against Hindu minorities during Durga Puja on allegations of blasphemy. In light of this, political right-wing organisations Tripura began protesting against the violence in Bangladesh, however, this led to political tension in Tripura and resulted in communal violence. Instances of arson, looting and violence were reported, along with destruction of religious property. Major violence was reported during a rally by right-wing organisations, including the VHP, on October 26. 

(With PTI inputs)

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