In a questionable move, Tripura Police has booked at least 102 social media account holders, including journalists, for allegedly posting distorted news regarding last month’s communal violence in the state. It has also sent letters to the social media platforms to block these users.
This comes three days after Tripura Police booked four Delhi based Supreme Court lawyers under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 2019 (UAPA) for allegedly sharing fake information on social media, which the police believed could flare up the communal tension. The UAPA notice instructed them to “immediately delete these fabricated and false statements circulated on social media” and asked them to appear at the West Agartala police station by November 10 to face proceedings.
In a notice served through Twitter’s online Law Enforcement Request system, the officer-in-charge of West Agartala police station asked for the blocking of 102 handles, which he claimed were spreading “objectionable news items/ statements” about the recent clashes and alleged attacks on mosques in the state, as reported by the Indian Express.
Furthermore, in a letter written to Twitter, the state police requested to block at least 68 accounts for allegedly posting distorted and objectionable news on the platform, which could potentially threaten the communal bond in the north-eastern state. Facebook and YouTube received similar requests.
“…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,” said the police in their notice.
A case was lodged in this regard at West Agartala Police Station under Section 153A, 153B, 469, 471, 503, 504, 120B of the Indian Penal Code and Section 13 of the UAPA.
In an earlier statement, the police had said that while some 150 accounts were initially listed for scrutiny, after a careful and detailed examination of the content posted on social media websites 101 accounts were shortlisted, which allegedly had “malicious propaganda” in them and “potential to create hatred”.
On October 26, violence had erupted in Tripura, taking the form of communal violence. It was reported that members of the right-wing organisation, Vishwa Hindu Parishad had allegedly vandalised a mosque and properties of Muslims in North Tripura during a demonstration against the anti-Hindu violence in the neighbouring state of Bangladesh. Three houses and a few shops, all reportedly owned by Muslims, were also ransacked in the nearby Rowa Bazar. The police, however, claimed that no mosque had been burnt in the district.
Tripura Police has been criticised by journalists, social activists and others for allegedly suppressing the truth. Similarly, the Editor Guild of India, on Sunday, criticised the filing of charges under the UAPA against the 102 people for reporting and writing about the communal violence that took place in Tripura in the aftermath of communal violence in Bangladesh. “Such a harsh law, wherein the processes of investigation and bail applications are extremely rigorous and overbearing, is being used for merely reporting on and protesting against communal violence,” said the association. They further commented, “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.”
A report submitted by a fact-finding team said that the violence in Tripura that took the shape of communal disharmony was the result of the “irresponsibility of the administration, along with extremist organisations and the vested interests of ambitious politicians”. Despite investigating the claims produced by the fact-finding team, the state police have booked people under the same anti-terror law that has ignited widespread anger across the country.
Journalist Shyam Meera Singh confirmed via Twitter that the BJP-led Tripura government had used the UAPA against him for writing three words – “Tripura is burning”. Similarly, UAPA notices were also sent to Supreme Court lawyers Ehtesham Hashmi, Amit Srivastava, Ansar Indori and Mukesh Kumar for “provocative” posts on social media (who had also gone to Tripura from Delhi to produce the fact-finding report on the communal tension in the state).
The report claimed that at least 12 mosques, nine shops and three houses belonging to Muslims were vandalised in Tripura during the rallies organised by groups protesting the attacks on Hindu minorities in Bangladesh.
Speaking to the Wire, former Communist Party of India (Marxist) MP Jitendra Chaudhury said, “It is a fact that Sangh parivar’s activists indulged in violence. There was communal violence in the state. It is natural for sensitive people to respond to it. Pressing the draconian UAPA charges is absolutely ridiculous.” He added that the police action is an attempt to hide the BJP-led state government’s own failures to maintain peace in Tripura, and that the fact-finding team members who are currently facing the wrath of UAPA charges were in the state to learn about the reality of the state, not to “disrupt peace and harmony” as claimed by the state police.
“What the state police have done reminds me of the British regime. If the state police wanted to challenge these people, they could have done that by invoking different sections of IPC. We condemn such police action and demand that such charges should be immediately withdrawn,” added Chaudhury.