The Editors Guild of India (EGI) on Sunday, 7 November, issued a statement saying that it is "deeply shocked" by the Tripura Police booking 102 people, including journalists, under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, for reporting and writing on the recent communal violence in the state.
WHAT HAD HAPPENED?
Tripura Police have registered cases against 102 Twitter accounts under the UAPA for "spreading fake and distorted information related to the recent violence that took place at Panisagar".
The Tripura police has also booked four Supreme Court lawyers under UAPA, who had expressed discontent over incidents of violence and vandalism against Muslim-owned houses and shops.
Additionally, the police in Tripura have also written to Twitter, asking the microblogging platform to suspend at least 68 accounts, which the state government accused of "posting distorted and objectionable news items" in the wave of the communal flares in parts of the north-eastern state, reported NDTV.
WHAT DID THE EGI SAY?
Referring to the case of one of the journalists, Shyam Meera Singh, who has alleged that he has been booked under UAPA for merely tweeting “Tripura is burning”, the EGI said that there has been an "extremely disturbing trend" of using this "harsh law" for merely reporting on and protesting against communal violence.
"The Guild is of the opinion that this is an attempt by the state government to deflect attention away from its own failure to control majoritarian violence, as well as to take action against the perpetrators of this. Governments cannot use stringent laws like UAPA to suppress reporting on such incidents."Editor's Guild of India
The Guild further demanded that the state government conduct an objective and fair investigation into the circumstances of the riots instead of penalising journalists and civil society activists.
It also reiterated an earlier demand to the Supreme Court of India, to take cognisance of such laws being used against freedom of speech. It asked the apex court "to issue stringent guidelines on charging journalists under them, so that these laws don’t become an easy tool for suppressing press freedom."
WHAT HAVE RIGHTS BODIES SAID?
In a statement issued on 5 November, the People's Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) said that the four members of the fact-finding team being booked is an obvious example of the ‘normalization’ of the ‘unlawful’ clause of the UAPA.
"...the police action against the advocates for their role in ‘fake news’ is obviously meant to distract attention from the real issue of culpability," the statement said, adding that the action against these lawyers is also aimed at discrediting the fact-finding team’s independent assessment of the events.
"PUDR strongly condemns the Tripura police for its motivated charge against the fact-finding members and for causing harassment to them. It demands an immediate revocation of the charges made against the lawyers and also against the over 70 social media users."Statement by People's Union for Democratic Rights
Meanwhile, People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) in a statement has demanded that the UAPA cases against the lawyers be withdrawn, reported The Indian Express.
It also alleged that the police invoked the UAPA because of the findings of the team that the violence in Tripura had been orchestrated by Hindu right-wing groups.
(With inputs from NDTV and The Indian Express.)