The controversy surrounding the arrest of two women journalists in Tripura for allegedly spreading fake news regarding the destruction of a mosque has crystallised further with the Tripura Information Minister alleging that they were "instigating people against the government". Samriddhi Sakunia and Swarna Jha were charged and arrested earlier this week and received bail from a Tripura court yesterday.
"The two women journalists were provoking the people, instigating the people against the government, trying to unite the Muslim community on behalf of another political party," said minister Susanta Chowdhury, who is also the Tripura government spokesman.
"If they simply wanted to report from ground, present news we don't have a problem, but why were they putting up provocative post?...We all saw what happened in Amravati, the minority community was provoked to come out on the street, who did it? These type of journalists did it," the minister added.
The Tripura government denies all rumours of a mosque being demolished a Quran being defaced in the Dargabazar region of northern Tripura which the two journalists had reported, alleging that locals had given them testimony and evidence. The Editor's Guild of India has issued a statement where it strongly condemned their arrest "and demands their immediate release and restoration of their freedom to travel." The Guild has also issued a strong condemnation of what it terms as abuse of the UAPA section by the Tripura government against journalists.
Sakunia's tweets which show a partially-burnt house and alleged defacement of a Quran have been declared "doctored" by the Tripura police. The two journalists, who work for HW News Network have been alleging that police harrassed them ever since the FIR was filed, posting police outside their hotel and detaining them on their way to the airport. They have been reporting on the aftermath of the communal clashes in Tripura earlier this month.
HW News Network has issued a statement in which they challenged the circumstances of the arrest and alleged that proper protocol was not taken. The entire episode was another example of the Tripura government misusing law and order to harass journalists, the network claimed.
They have been booked by the Tripura Police under sections 120B (criminal conspiracy), 153 (provocation with intent to cause riot) and 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace). The Vishwa Hindu Parishad which filed the FIR claims that the journalists "false imparted" the VHP and Bajrang Dal while visiting a mosque that had reportedly been torched in Tripura's Gomti district.