Activists from students', workers' and lawyers' organisations protested in front of Delhi's Tripura Bhavan on Friday, November 5, against the invocation of the draconian anti-terror law, Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), by the Tripura police against two lawyers who were part of a team which published a fact-finding report about the recent communal violence which shook the state.
The organisations that participated in the protest included the All India Students' Association (AISA), the Students' Federation of India (SFI), All India Lawyers' Association for Justice (AILAJ), and All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU).
The protesters marched from Assam Bhawan to Tripura Bhavan, raising slogans against the BJP government in Tripura and the BJP-led Union government at the Centre. Hundreds of police personnel were present at the venue, and the road in front of Tripura Bhawan had been blocked by yellow barricades long before the protesters even approached it. The activists, students, lawyers, and concerned citizens gathered right in front of these barricades and registered their protest—the heavy presence of police personnel failing to scare them or dampen their spirits.
The West Agartala Police served notices to Delhi-based human rights lawyers Mukesh of Peoples Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and Ansar Indori of National Confederation of Human Rights (NCHR), stating that a case has been registered against them under Section 13 (punishment for unlawful activities) of the UAPA over their social media posts and statements.
The notice was served a day after the lawyers held a press conference on Tuesday, November 2, at the Press Club of India in Delhi, which was streamed through Facebook Live, to release a fact-finding report titled "Humanity under Attack in Tripura #MuslimsLivesMatter", which mentioned the attacks on 12 masjids, nine shops and three homes belonging to people from the Muslim community.
Speaking to NewsClick, Pritish Menon Azad, SFI Delhi State Secretary, who was present at the protest demonstration, said, "As we all know, following the incidents that happened in Bangladesh, there has been retaliation by Hindutva groups in Tripura, which resulted in the loss of property and life. When we talk about being in a secular, democratic country, these kinds of situations are unacceptable for the citizens of the country, and it should be so for the government as well."
He pointed out that instead of ensuring that those belonging to the minority communities are safe, the state has used its machinery to protect the perpetrators of violence, charging anyone who exposes or tries to expose the truth with UAPA.
The fact-finding team which compiled the report demanded the constitution of an inquiry committee headed by a retired High Court judge to investigate the incidents, compensation to victims, reparation of damaged religious places, etc. The team also demanded strict action against people and organisations who made provocative and false posts on social media to incite people.
In the notice, the West Agartala Police stated that a case has been registered against Advocates Mukesh and Ansar Indori "against the social media posts circulated by you/ statements made by you for promoting enmity between religious groups as well as provoking the people of different religious communities to cause breach of peace."
The police asked them to "immediately delete these fabricated and false statements/comments made/circulated by you in social media". However, the notice did not specify the specific social media posts. Further, Mukesh and Indori were asked to appear before the Sub-Inspector of Police, West Agartala Police Station, on November 10.
While addressing the protest demonstration, Sucheta De of AICCTU said, "The two lawyers who have been charged with UAPA have not said anything that could be used to incite violence. The charges pressed against them are nothing but a politically motivated attempt at silencing them. The government has shown us that there is no place for facts or fact-finding in a BJP-ruled state. However, we will not allow things like these to happen in our country."
The other speakers who addressed the demonstration relayed similar sentiments.
The notice sent under Section 41 of the Code of Criminal Procedure mentioned these IPC offences as well - Sections 153A/153B ( Promoting enmity between different groups on the grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc.,) 469 (forgery for the purpose of harming information), 503 (criminal intimidation), 504 ( (intentional insult with intent to provoke the breach of peace) and 120B (punishment for criminal conspiracy).
The All India Lawyers Union (AILU) also released a statement condemning and protesting against the reported action of the Tripura police. It called the police action highly undemocratic and unconstitutional. "Reporting about and protesting against communal violence and denial of democratic rights is not an anti-national or terrorist activity to attract/invoke UAPA and/or sedition or any other charges of criminal offences," the statement said.
Speaking to NewsClick over the phone, Senior Advocate P.V. Surendranath, General Secretary of AILU, said, "The UAPA is not meant to be used for things like this. What these lawyers did were not anti-national activities. They did what any person who believes in democracy would do. The charges filed against them are completely against the constitution. If the charges are not repealed, we will move forward and take larger actions."