The Digipub News India Foundation, an association of over 60 digital news organisations, condemned the police action on two Delhi-based female journalists who were in Tripura for reporting on the last month’s communal flare-up in the state.
The media association, which represents some of the top digital news media in the country, in “the strongest terms” condemned the “sustained pattern of intimidation against journalists of HW News Network”.
Digipub said that an FIR was filed against journalists Samriddhi Sakunia and Swarna Jha by the Tripura Police on a complaint by the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), quoting sections 120B (criminal conspiracy),153A (Provocation with intent to cause riot) and 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace) of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, for reporting the aftermath of attacks on Muslims in the state.
The association further informed quoting Sakunia said the police arrived at their hotel at around 10.30 pm on November 13 and served the FIR copy at around 5.30 am the next morning. “They were not allowed to move out until 9 am on November 14, despite cooperating with the police. About 16-17 police personnel were deployed outside their hotel in Dharmanagar in North Tripura district,” the Digipub statement said.
The journalists were released later on November 14 and have been asked to be present at the Fatikroy police station on November 21.
“Digipub strongly deplores by the harassment of the two journalists by the Tripura Police who invaded their privacy by showing up at their hotel and demanding their Aadhaar numbers and transport details, ostensibly to provide ‘security’, a contention that soon turned out to be false. This is not only a violation of the freedom of the press but also a breach of the fundamental right to privacy,” the association said.
“This is not the first time that journalists have been intimidated for doing their jobs in this country. Many journalists face criminal investigations, arrest and jail terms, as India faces a sharp degradation in press freedom,” it added.
The statement added that in a country where the media are considered the fourth pillar of democracy, journalists must be allowed to hold the government to account without fear of intimidation and punitive action.
On November 12, Sakunia and Jha had reported on a mosque that was torched in Tripura’s Gomati district. They arrived in Dharmanagar on November 14 to report on alleged targeting of another mosque and properties owned by Muslims in Panisagar subdivision, the region hit by violence spurred during a VHP rally on October 26.
A complaint by one Kanchan Das alleged that the two journalists “delivered instigating speech against Hindus and the Tripura government” while visiting “Muslim houses” in Fatikroy on November 13. He claimed that Sakunia had “falsely imparted” the names of VHP and Bajrang Dal in connection with the torching of a mosque in Unakoti’s Paul Bazaar on October 24, which had maligned the organisation and the state government. This, Das alleged, was part of a “criminal conspiracy” to “destroy communal harmony in Tripura”.
Meanwhile, the Indian Women’s Press Corps has also demanded immediate release of the two journalists. The Indian Women’s Press Corps, in a statement, said it stands in solidarity with journalists Samriddhi K Sakunia and Swana Jha, who have been “harassed, intimidated and detained for doing their job”.
“The IWPC demands that the police immediately release them and allow them to do their job without fear,” the organisation stated.
Editor’s Note: The News Mill is a member of Digipub News India Foundation.