The Editors’ Guild of India (AGI) on Wednesday, 22 December, released its fact-finding mission report on the attack "on media freedom in Tripura," in the wake of the communal violence that occurred in the state and the use of stringent laws against journalists and activists that followed.
The Tripura Police had invoked the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) against 102 people, including journalists, for reporting and writing on the communal violence in the state, including tweets which read, “Tripura is burning.”
The three-member team included independent journalist Bharat Bhushan, General Secretary of the Editors’ Guild Sanjay Kapoor, and Editor of Imphal Review of Arts and Politics Pradip Phanjoubam.
“The Tripura Police and the administration have displayed lack of professionalism and integrity in dealing with the communal conflict and with those reporting on the issue. This makes them complicit in the growth of muscular majoritarianism that subverts democratic institutions,” the report reads.
The team visited Tripura from 28 November to 1 December, and met journalists, representatives of the state government, including the Chief Minister Biplab Deb, ministers and the Director General of Police, as well as civil society activists.
Key Highlights of the Report:
The report states,
"The police and an insecure political leadership have used draconian laws like UAPA and the might of the police and a pliant judiciary to pulverize the civil society that includes the media -- mostly from outside the state."
"Fact-finding missions of Supreme Court lawyers have been served notices under UAPA for sharing their findings on the violence against minorities in a press conference!"
"Women journalists were charged with incitement when they were performing their journalistic duty of asking questions from witnesses to the torching of mosques and shops.”
Listing a timeline of the events and how the violence was justified by members of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled government, the report adds that the communal rioting in Bangladesh during Durga Puja coincided with Chief Minister Biplab Deb and the BJP's preparations to take on the challenge of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) in the civic elections.
"Counter communal mobilisation in reaction to the violence against the Hindu minority in Bangladesh offered an opportunity to the fraternal organisations of the BJP – the VHP, Hindu Jagaran Manch, Bajrang Dal and others – to foment communal anger to consolidate their vote amongst the Hindu Bengali population of the state.”
The report adds that the communalism was justified as a ‘natural reaction’ of the Hindus of Tripura as they had “family links with the Hindu population across the border in Bangladesh.”
The report also highlights that while the local media is submissive to the whims of the state government, journalists from outside the state tried to report the communal violence for what it was, which “did not suit the narrative of good governance the Biplab Deb government was desirous of projecting.”
“It also seemed hyper sensitive to the campaign challenge being posed by the TMC whose youth leader Shyaoni Ghosh had been arrested for merely raising the slogan “Khela Hobe” and slapped with attempt to murder charges."
Further, the fact-finding team has concluded that the Tripura government was working according to the "larger nationalist vision of the BJP in which the media also has a role to play - not as a foil to the government but as its partner in the nationalist project... Indeed, the Chief Minister’s statement during the National Press Day, widely reported in the local media -- 'An ideal nation must have an ideal press' - seems to corroborate this."