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SC Agrees to Urgent Hearing of Petition by Lawyers, Journalist Against UAPA by Tripura Police

There has been outrage against a fact-finding team of lawyers and journalist Shyam Meera Singh being sent UAPA notices for social media posts on communal violence in Tripura.
SC Agrees to Urgent Hearing of Petition by Lawyers, Journalist Against UAPA by Tripura Police

Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

New Delhi: The Supreme Court had agreed to give urgent listing of a petition filed by lawyers, activists and journalist Shyam Meera Singh, challenging the Tripura Police’s decision to invoke the draconian UAPA for social media posts on communal violence in the North Eastern State.

On Thursday, senior advocate Prashant Bhushan mentioned the plea before a bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) N V Ramanna, according to Bar & Bench.

“When the CJI suggested that the plea can be filed before the appropriate High Court, Bhushan urged the Bench to hear the matter considering the urgency involved. The CJI then acceded to the request and agreed to list the matter for hearing” the report said.

Read Also: Tripura Police Book 102 Persons Under UAPA, Govt Draws Flak for ‘Intolerance’

Recently, the Tripura Police drew flak from several quarters after the police booked 102 social media account holders under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) on criminal conspiracy and forgery charges, following communal violence in the state.

The police also served notices to the authorities of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to freeze the said accounts and inform all particulars of those persons to it, PTI reported.       

 “…some persons/organization are publishing/posting distorted and objectionable news items/statements in Twitter regarding the recent clash and alleged attack upon mosques of Muslim communities in the state. In publishing these news items/posts, the persons/organizations have been found using photographs/videos of some other incidents, fabricated statements/commentary for promoting enmity between religious groups/ communities in presence of a criminal conspiracy. The posts have potential to flare up communal tension in Tripura state between people of different religious communities, which may result into communal riots”, the notice served to the authorities of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube said.

Among those booked are Ehtesham Hashmi, Supreme Court lawyer, advocate Amit Srivastav, coordinator of Lawyers for Democracy, NCHRO national secretary Ansar Indori and PUCL member Mukesh Kumar who had visited Tripura as part of a fact finding team. In the notice to the lawyers, the police had asked them to delete the social media posts and appear before investigators by November 10.

 The action by the Tripura Police has been condemned by the Editors Guild of India, The Press Club of India, The Indian Womens Press Corp, DigiPUB News India Foundation and various Opposition parties. Journalist Shyam Meera Singh had just tweeted “Tripura Burning” and has been sent a notice under UAPA.

 DigiPUB said in a statement that use of such stringent laws against journalists was unjustifiable in a democracy where the right to freedom of expression exists.

"It does not bode well when, in a society, hate speech and active calls to violence go unpunished, or are rewarded politically, while journalists reporting to ensure a well informed citizenry are victimised and slapped with oppressive laws," DIGIPUB's statement said. 

The plea, filed through Bhushan, alleged targeted political violence against “Muslim minorities” in Tripura in October as also the subsequent efforts by the state to monopolise the flow of information and facts emanating from the affected areas by invoking UAPA provisions against members of civil society including advocates and journalists who have made the effort to bring facts in relation to the targeted violence in the public domain.

Advocates, Mukesh and Ansarul Haq, and journalist Shyam Meera Singh have been accused in the FIR lodged at the West Agartala Police Station under the IPC and the UAPA provisions for allegedly disseminating information about communal violence in the state.

“If the state is allowed to criminalise the very act of fact finding and reporting -- and that too under the stringent provisions of the UAPA in which anticipatory bail is barred and the idea of bail is a remote possibility -- then the only facts that will come in the public domain are those that are convenient to the state due to the ‘chilling effect’ on the freedom of speech and expression of members of civil society. If the quest for truth and reporting thereof itself is criminalised then the victim in the process is the idea of justice,” the plea said.

It said that around October 14, reports emerged from Bangladesh about the violence against Hindu minorities during Durga Puja on allegations of blasphemy and “in a perverse counterblast, political right wing forces in the state of Tripura started fomenting religious passions against the Muslim minorities.”

Processions by Right wing political forces were led ostensibly to protest against the violence in Bangladesh but that led to violence against Muslim minorities in the state, the plea said.

 “In a targeted and orchestrated manner, there were incidents of arson, looting, and violence on the establishments of Muslim citizens and attacks and burning of mosques at various places in Tripura. There was major violence during a rally by right wing forces such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad on October 26. News of the ensuing violence that followed have been widely reported in international media...,” it said.

Later, a four member fact finding team of advocates  went to Tripura and on the basis of their interaction with the persons affected by the violence, they put in the public domain a fact finding report titled as “Humanity Under Attack in Tripura #Muslim Lives Matter”.

This has led to the registration of the FIR and the petitioners have been asked to delete their posts and take part in criminal investigation.

 “This is ex facie an attempt to curb the free flow of information from the riot affected areas given that there is nothing in the report which even remotely supports any secessional activity, or questions the sovereignty or territorial integrity of India, or causes any disaffection against the State of India. The ingredients of the definition of ‘unlawful activities’ under section 2(1)(o) of UAPA are not even remotely made out,” it said.

The report does not exaggerate any of the facts and accurately documents what was learnt and seen by the fact finding team, it said, adding that there were no deaths; therefore no deaths were reported.

It only corroborates with further specifics and in greater detail what has also been broadly reported by national and international media. The report and contents thereof do not fall within any of the restrictions on freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(2) of the Constitution and is covered by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, the plea said.

"The absurdity is further compounded by the fact that though the FIR refers to 102 social media posts which are alleged to have intended to cause communal disharmony and intended to cause disaffection against the State; and the notice under Section 41(a) calls upon the Petitioners No. 1 & 2 to delete the offensive posts -no post actually referred to in the FIR have in fact been made by the Petitioners No. 1 & 2 (advocates),” it said.

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