New Delhi: Tripura Police and the state administration have displayed “lack of professionalism and integrity” in dealing with the communal conflict and with those reporting on the issue, the Editors Guild of India (EGI) said on Wednesday.

A report of the ‘Fact Finding Mission on Attacks on Media Freedom in Tripura’, released by EGI during a virtual press conference, claimed that “grand conspiracy theories have been cooked up to show how independent journalism that exposes communal violence and the rise of Hindu majoritarianism is an attempt by the enemies of the state to undermine a democratically elected government”.

During a VHP rally in October called to protest against the communal violence in neighbouring Bangladesh, a mosque was allegedly vandalised and two shops were set ablaze at Chamtilla in Tripura.

According to the state police, houses and a few shops, reportedly owned by Muslims, were also ransacked in nearby Rowa Bazar.

This led the Tripura Police to book 102 social media account holders, including journalists under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

After reports of the Tripura government using draconian laws to deter journalists and civil society activists from reporting on the communal violence in the state began to cause a major concern, the EGI decided to send a three-member fact-finding team to the state.

The members of the team were independent journalist Bharat Bhushan, general secretary of the guild Sanjay Kapoor, and editor of ‘Imphal Review of Arts and Politics’ Pradip Phanjoubam.

The team visited Tripura from November 28 to December 1 and met a cross-section of journalists, representatives of the state government, including the chief minister, ministers and the DGP, as well as civil society activists, to assess the state of media freedom.

In the report, the EGI said, “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.”

It said the result of this “subversion of institutions” has been visible everywhere.

“… reporting and tweeting — law enforcement agencies claim — about the violence in that state, is a criminal act,” it said.

The Guild also said that this is the reason why the police and the ruling party see a design in the tweets and expectedly drag Pakistan as being responsible in this exposure of social instability in Tripura when they dramatically confide in you — one tweet is even from Pakistan.

The report said that ever since this matter blew up, “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”.

It noted that 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 and women journalists were charged with incitement when they were performing their journalistic duty of asking questions from witnesses to the alleged torching of mosques and shops.

“The reason why the police used UAPA against those who had just tweeted ‘Tripura is burning’ was not just to stop others from tweeting about the happenings in the border state, but also to forcefully establish the dominance of the state’s narrative.

“It was due to this reason that despite over two hundred rallies organized by the VHP and its fraternal radical Hindu outfits against the violent happenings in Bangladesh, and various acts of vandalizing mosques and torching of shops owned by Muslims, there were no arrests of those till the courts stepped in,” the Guild noted in the report.

It said that this culture of impunity epitomizes the conduct of the state government.

“The attitude of the current Tripura government towards the media seems particularly egregious,” it said.

The report said that the communal rioting in Bangladesh during Durga Puja came at a time when Chief Minister Biplab Deb and his party, the BJP, were preparing to take on the challenge of the Trinamool Congress in the upcoming civic elections.

“Counter communal mobilization in reaction to the violence against the Hindu minority in Bangladesh offered an opportunity to the fraternal organizations 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,” it said.

It claimed that while the local press either “cowered before the state government and was too afraid of the ground reality as it was, journalists writing for national media or for media based outside the state tried to report the communal violence for what it was”.

The Guild observed that the Tripura government seems to “believe that it is 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”.

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