New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday stayed the criminal proceedings against two women journalists and a media house booked by Tripura Police for their reporting on alleged communal violence in the State.
The top court also stayed the proceedings against a third journalist, an Associate Editor in the same media house, who was recently summoned by the police in connection with the reports on violence.
A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, Surya Kant, and Vikram Nath issued notice to the Tripura government and sought its response in four weeks on the plea of the media house and the journalists, seeking quashing of the two FIRs lodged against them.
“Pending further orders, there shall be a stay of further proceedings pursuant to (i) FIR No 39 of 2021 registered on November 14, 2021, at Fatikroy Police Station, Unakoti, Tripura; and (ii) FIR No 82 of 2021 registered on November 14, 2021, at Police Station Kakraban Udaypur Gomati, Tripura”, the bench said.
The top court tagged the plea with other similar matters pending before it.
The two journalists, Samridhi Sakunia and Swarna Jha, were booked by the police along with their media house, Theo Connect Pvt Ltd. Associate Editor Arti Ghargi in the same media house was recently summoned by the police for questioning in connection with the coverage on violence.
At the outset, senior advocate Siddharth Luthra, representing the journalists, said they were picked up by the police pursuant to the FIR, and bail was granted but there is another FIR.
“The difficulty being faced is that you report the news, and one FIR is registered and then a second one is registered to say that it has been established in the first FIR that journalists are wrong. This is wrong and cannot be justified,” he said.
In November, the police had registered two FIRs alleging that the reports of the journalists promoted enmity between groups and have spread communal hatred by publishing alleged baseless news about the violent incidents.
The petitioners have sought quashing of the FIR saying that it was an abuse of the criminal process of law as they were doing their work based on the version of the victims of the violence.
The plea said that if the state is allowed to criminalize the very act of fact-finding and unbiased reporting then the only facts that will come in the public domain are those that are convenient to the state due to the chilling effect on the freedom of speech and expression of members of civil society.
On November 17, the top court had directed the Tripura police not to take any coercive action against the three civil society members, including a journalist, in connection with an FIR lodged under the harsh UAPA provisions against them for allegedly bringing facts through social media posts about targeted violence against the minority community in the state.
It had issued notice to the Agartala police on the plea filed by advocates, Mukesh and Ansarul Haq, and journalist Shyam Meera Singh against the lodging of the FIR.
The three persons, who were part of a fact-finding committee, have also challenged the Constitutional validity of some provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, on the grounds that the definition of unlawful activities is vague and wide; moreover, the statute makes the grant of bail to accused very difficult.
The FIR took note of a tweet of one of the members of the civil society which had stated that “Tripura is burning”.
Recently, the north-eastern state witnessed incidents of arson, looting, and violence after reports emerged from Bangladesh that the Hindu minorities there had been attacked during Durga Puja’ on allegations of blasphemy.
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