Days after four Delhi lawyers were booked under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act by the Tripura government, more social media users have come out alleging that they have been charged under the same section for raising questions about attacks on minorities in the communal violence that took place in Tripura last month. 102 social media handles came under the scanner for allegedly spreading tweets that would inflame violence or communal tensions.
The Editors Guild of India has released a statement in which it expressed 'shock' at the Biplab Deb government's handling of the matter.
"[This is] an extremely disturbing trend where such a harsh law, wherein the process of investigation and bail applications are extremely rigorous and over-bearing, is being used for merely reporting and protesting against communal violence," the statement reads. The Guild also called for the Supreme Court's intervention in the matter as it wanted to address the clear violations of freedom of speech.
Shyam Meera Singh, another social media user and journalist booked by Tripura Police, said: "Tripura Police has registered a case under UAPA against me for my tweet of three words on ongoing incidents at Tripura. I've got FIR copy of Tripura Police. In a second notice, police mentioned one of my tweets. The tweet was 'Tripura is burning'. Tripura's BJP government used UAPA based on my tweet of three words."
Other social media users have also been forced to delete tweets raising doubts over the investigation into the matter or discussing it over fears that UAPA would be applied to them as well. The High Court in Tripura, which has taken suo moto cognizance of the matter, had ordered the government to take strict action against those spreading narratives of violence and hatred on social media. The fact-finding commission of lawyers appointed to investigate the matter also found a one-to-one correlation between propagation of hatred online and the violence committed offline.
"Many of us booked for raising critical questions over institutionalized planned violence, not for rumours. Let's not succumb to fake narrative," said Meer Faisal, a social media user, alleging that the government is misusing the court directive to crack down on dissent.
"So far as law and order is concerned, the government is very much serious. We'll not allow anything which will allow communal destabilization," Tripura Information and Cultural Affairs minister Sushanta Chowdhury was quoted as saying by the Indian Express. He went on to deny rumours of violations of free speech but alleged that a "section of people from outside" had tried to hatch a conspiracy to unite "members of a particular religion" which the government had foiled. Chowdhury went on to vow that the government would crack down on those spreading false rumours and conspiracies on the coming days.