Editors Guild Condemns Tripura Police Action on Journalists

Stop killing journalists. Photo: UNESCO
Stop killing journalists. Photo: UNESCO

The Editors Guild of India asserts that Tripura Police is misusing UAPA to harass journalists and others.

By RMN News Service

The Editors Guild of India (EGI) says it is shocked by the Tripura Police’s action of booking 102 people, including journalists, under the coercive Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), for reporting and writing on the recent communal violence in the state. 

According to EGI, the state police have sent notices to various social media platforms under UAPA. This move comes a few days after the police had filed UAPA charges against some Delhi based lawyers who had visited Tripura as part of an independent fact-finding enquiry commission into the communal violence.

BBC reports that tension prevails in India’s north-eastern state of Tripura following attacks on mosques and properties owned by Muslims. The violence followed clashes between Hindu groups and the police. The groups were protesting against the police refusing them permission to hold a rally against recent attacks on Hindus in neighbouring Bangladesh.

In a series of tweets on November 7, Tripura Police said that some posts in social media projecting doubts on the impartiality of Tripura Police in taking action against the perpetrators of recent  communal incidents have been noticed. “It is reiterated that Tripura Police is investigating these cases in a complete impartial and lawful manner,” it said in a tweet.

However, EGI asserts that Tripura Police is misusing UAPA to harass journalists and others. One of the journalists, Shyam Meera Singh, according to EGI, has alleged that he has been booked under UAPA for merely tweeting “Tripura is burning”. 

“This is an extremely disturbing trend where such a harsh law, wherein the processes of investigation and bail applications are extremely rigorous and overbearing, is being used for merely reporting on and protesting against communal violence,” EGI said in a statement issued on November 7.

Earlier, in July, Paris-based organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF) – which works to protect press freedom in all parts of the world – had published a list of 37 heads of state or government who crack down massively on press freedom. 

India’s authoritarian prime minister (PM) Narendra Modi joins the RSF predators of press freedom” list with other cruel rulers including Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, Myanmar’s military head Min Aung Hlaing, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Pakistan PM Imran Khan, and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.

The Editors Guild of India (EGI) says it is of the opinion that this is an attempt by the state government to deflect attention away from its own failure to control majoritarian violence, as well as to take action against the perpetrators of violence. “Governments cannot use stringent laws like UAPA to suppress reporting on such incidents,” the EGI added in its statement.

The Editors Guild demands that the state government conduct an objective and fair investigation into the circumstances of the riots instead of penalising journalists and civil society activists. 

Further, the Guild reiterates its earlier demand to the Supreme Court of India, to take cognizance of the manner in which such laws are unjustifiably used against freedom of speech, and to issue stringent guidelines on charging journalists under them, so that these laws don’t become an easy tool for suppressing press freedom.

Meanwhile, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has expressed its concern over violence against Muslims in Tripura. In a tweet, it said, “USCIRF is concerned about ongoing violence in Tripura against Muslims, which some regard as retaliation for attacks against Hindus in Bangladesh last month. The Indian government must stop violence against religious communities.”

The USCIRF has also released its latest 2021 report that highlights continuous attacks on religious freedom in India under the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government of PM Modi.

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Rakesh Raman