'Sheer Misuse of UAPA': Journalists, Lawyers Slam Tripura Police's Cases on Them
The Tripura Police has booked 102 social media handles, and 4 lawyers, under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.
Two days after the Tripura Police booked 102 social media handles under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) for their posts allegedly 'promoting enmity between religious groups,' a keen sense of wariness, coupled with defiance, prevails among journalists and activists who had spoken about the recent spate of violence in the state.
Among those who have been booked by the Tripura Police are Maktoob Media's journalist Meer Faisal, global correspondent CJ Werleman, and four Supreme Court lawyers.
"Imposing UAPA on lawyers, journalists, and others is sheer misuse of this draconian law. The government is using it to snatch away our rights of freedom of expression," Supreme Court lawyer Ehtesham Hashmi, who has been booked under the anti-terrorism law, told The Quint on Monday, 8 November.
Hashmi had been part of a four-member team of lawyers who had initiated a fact-finding mission into the cases of violence being reported against the Muslim community in Tripura. All four lawyers have been booked under the UAPA.
"We stand by the fact finding report. We have videos, audios and photographs as evidence. We will file an affidavit. I am sure that the Supreme Court of India would take cognizance of this case and give relief to us who are affected by this anti-national law," Hashmi told The Quint.
In October, a series of rallies had been conducted in Tripura by Hindu right-wing groups, including the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Hindu Jagran Manch (HJM), in the wake of the violence against Hindus in Bangladesh during Durga Puja festivities. A number of Muslim residences, shops, and mosques were allegedly vandalised during these protests.
A number of scribes and activists have been slapped with the UAPA for their social media posts on the violence against the minority community.
The Tripura Police has alleged "criminal conspiracy" by the accused to "flare up communal tensions."
'Will Never Hesitate to Stand Up for Justice'
Newsclick journalist Shyam Meera Singh, who has reportedly booked under the anti-terrorism law for a tweet stating 'Tripura is burning,' said:
"For writing only these 3 words “Tripura is burning”, BJP Government of Tripura has imposed UAPA on me. I want to reiterate once again, I will never hesitate to stand up for justice. PM of my country might be a coward, We journalists are not. I am not scared of your jails."
Byline Times correspondent CJ Werleman, who has also been booked in the case, took to Twitter to share, "I have been booked by Indian police in Tripura for reporting evidence of terrorist attacks against Muslims. The BJP government in Tripura has also blocked an investigation into anti-Muslim violence."
Werleman had actively reported on the discord in Tripura, and had demanded urgent action to 'save Tripura Muslims from Indian government-backed Hindu nationalists.'
'Tripura Police Trying to Cover Up Their Complicity'
"Tripura Police is trying to cover up their complicity by dragging 'FAKE RUMOURS' narrative... Many of us booked for raising critical questions over institutionalized planned violence not for rumours," said journalist Meer Faisal.
Faisal, who works at Maktoob Media, had shared a number of reports of the unrest in Tripura using his Twitter handle.
The journalist has indicated that he has been booked for a tweet reporting an assault on a group of Muslims in Kadamtala:
'Misuse of Laws': Ex Chairman of Delhi Minorities Commission, Law Professor Booked
Former Chairman of Delhi Minorities Commission Zafarul-Islam Khan, who has also been booked by the Tripura Police, told The Quint that he has not received a notice from the police yet. Khan had shared a number of reports of the clashes on Twitter.
The former DMC chairman had also condemned the Tripura Police's action against the lawyers behind the fact-checking report, calling it a "misuse of laws."
An Islamophobia scholar and a professor of law at United States' Wayne State School of Law has also been named as an accused by the Tripura Police.
"Apparently I've been been booked under the UAPA law in India for my tweets. I'm a law professor that hasn't stepped foot in India in 4 years, mind you," he noted on Twitter.
'Could've Been Me...': An Inkling of Fear Prevails Among Journalists
As Indian journalists find themselves in a quandary over the reportage of communal cases, a sense of apprehension afflicts many.
Journalist Sartaj Alam, who had tweeted about the violence in Tripura, raising questions about the administration's response to the happenings, told The Quint that he had not expected such action.
"I did not think I was doing anything wrong. But since they think it was wrong, I have deleted the tweets," he said.
And it's not just those who've featured in the police's FIR who're perturbed.
A political activist, who prefers to remain anonymous, told The Quint that he had deleted some of the tweets that he had earlier posted on the unrest in Tripura.
"I do not think I had posted anything wrong, but I deleted them because no one wants to be named in such lists. I will not blame people if they now think twice before tweeting in cases like these," he said.
A scribe working at an eminent media house told The Quint on the condition of anonymity: "When the reports (on the booking of journalists) came, I thought my name could also be there. I had also tweeted about the matter. This sort of fear hinders you from doing your job."
"The message is clear. If you're a Muslim and you have a voice, or if you report about atrocities against Muslims – they're going to crush you. Naturally, people are scared," he observed.
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