The Tripura government has drawn flak from several quarters after the police on Saturday booked 102 social media account holders under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) on criminal conspiracy and forgery charges. Supreme Court lawyers, rights activists and journalists are among those booked based on their social media posts on alleged violence against Muslims and their places of worship 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 Muslilm 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.
Charged Under UAPA
The cases against the social media account holders were registered at the West Agartala police station under IPC sections 153A (promoting disharmony or feelings of enemity), 153 B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration), 469 (forgery), 471 (fraudulently or dishonestly using as genuine a forged document), 503 (threatening), 504 (intentional insult) and section 120B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and section 13 of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), he said.
“All the 102 persons, against whom the notices were served were asked to appear before the police and clarify their position”, a senior official told PTI. The names of the persons who have been charged were not disclosed by police.
Notices were served on Estesham Hashmi, Supreme Court lawyer, advocate Amit Srivastav, coodinator 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 lawyers were alleged to have claimed that the Muslim community was targeted, including women, and a mosque was vandalised. The team had demanded appropriate police action against the attackers, those who spread rumours and officials who remained inactive during attacks that occurred in the aftermath of violence against Hindus in Bangladesh during Durga Puja this year.
A mosque was vandalised and two shops were set ablaze at Chamtilla during the October 26 Vishva Hindu Parishad rally, which was called to protest against the communal violence in neighbouring Bangladesh. Three houses and a few shops, reportedly owned by Muslims, were also ransacked in nearby Rowa Bazar, the police said.
The case against the four SC lawyers was registered at West Agartala police station on November 3 under various sections of IPC including 153 (a) and (b) related to promoting disharmony, enmity or feelings of hatred between different groups on the grounds of religion, race etc, 469, 504, 120 (b) (criminal conspiracy), besides section 13 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
If convicted under the tough UAPA, an offender may face imprisonment up to seven years.
Govt’s Action Condemned
The Tripura Human Rights Organisation (THRO) has criticised the state government for serving notices to the Supreme Court advocates and stated that it was a move to silence the voice of democratic rights.
“The state government’s action is highly condemnable. Those who perpetrated the violence are roaming freely, while the lawyers, who are also members of rights bodies who were trying to restore normalcy by bringing facts to light, were booked under stringent acts. It is not acceptable”, THRO said.
The opposition CPI(M) in a statement said, after the attack on minorities in Bangladesh a group of people tried to foment communal tensions in different parts of the state. “When some lawyers visited the state as fact finders, cases were registered against them, this is an act of intolerance. If they had done any illegal activity then normal law was enough to take actions against them, but applying such stringent acts (as the UAPA) against them is an instance of intolerance,” the statement said.
Reacting to the 102 people being booked under the UAPA, Former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi on Monday said truth could not be silenced by booking people. He also attacked the BJP on Twitter, saying its favourite cover-up tactic was "shooting the messenger ".
The Editors Guild of India on Sunday condemned the Tripura Police's action and said the government could not use such stringent laws to suppress reporting on communal violence incidents.
The Guild said one of the journalists, Shyam Meera Singh, has alleged that he has been booked under the UAPA for merely tweeting 'Tripura is burning'.
The Guild, in a statement, said it was “deeply shocked” at the police’s action against journalists and said it was an attempt by the Tripura government to deflect attention away from its own failure to control majoritarian violence. It demanded that the state government conduct an objective and fair investigation into the circumstances of the rights instead of penalising journalists and civil society activists.
The DIGIPUB News India Foundation, an association of digital media organisations, strongly condemned the Tripura police's action, especially as UAPA charges have been filed against the Delhi-based lawyers and several journalists for "merely tweeting the communal violence" in the state.
It said that the 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.
(With PTI Inputs)