UAPA invoked for ‘Tripura is burning’ tweet by journalist
Ahead of local body elections, Tripura Police is said to have identified 78,000 Twitter handles, all barring 30 from outside the state, for disseminating ‘fake’ information about communal violence
Even as Trinamool Congress and TIPRA (Tipraha Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance) complained of violence unleashed by the BJP in the state ahead of the local body elections (assembly elections are due in 2023), Tripura Police are on a selective overdrive against what it describes is ‘fake news’ about the communal violence in the state.
BJP has already got a walkover in seven of the 20 local bodies in Tripura, where nobody other than the BJP candidates was allowed to file nomination. Last month’s communal violence, ostensibly in reaction and retaliation to attacks on Hindus in Bangladesh, was also designed to polarize voters on communal lines before the local body election.
Questions are being raised following Tripura Police turning a blind eye to the perpetrators of the violence and other instigators while selectively targeting those who have drawn attention to the violence.
Activists have pointed out a telling video being shared on social media which shows two young men spewing venom against a community and justifying the violence against minorities and mosques in Tripura last month, the opposition alleged, no action has been taken against them. The two men viciously declare that Tripura had shown the right way of celebrating Diwali.
Lawyers, social activists and journalists wondered why Tripura Police had not proceeded against this particular handle when it has filed cases under UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act) against 101 Twitter handles and asked Twitter India to suspect 68 of them.
In the wake of Delhi-based lawyers being served with notices under UAPA for, a journalist, Shyam Meera Singh, on Saturday claimed that he too had been booked in Tripura for tweeting three words, ‘Tripura is burning’.
Asar Indori, one of the four lawyers who comprised a fact-finding team that visited Tripura, said he was surprised to receive the notice because the team had merely shared what they had seen and heard. Tripura Police, he said, seemed to be suffering from some misunderstanding. The lawyers would fully cooperate with the Police, he said, to remove any misunderstanding that might have arisen.
Mosques, houses and shops belonging to Muslims were vandalized, looted or set on fire last month in Tripura following attacks on Hindus during Durga Puja in neighbouring Bangladesh.
The fact-finding team had recorded statements and taken photographs of the mosques vandalized. But Facebook live of a press conference they addressed at the Press Club of India in Delhi and the team’s social media posts seem to have invited action under UAPA. The team were told by villagers that while many of their Hindu neighbours came to their rescue and in at least one case prevented the mob from looting a computer shop owned by a Muslim, the mobs were led by ‘outsiders’. In a show of unity and harmony, the Hindu residents of Boxanagar area of Sepahijala district repaired a Panjakhana (Muslim prayer hall) which was partially damaged by miscreants.
While Tripura Police has steadfastly denied the occurrence of any “ major communal violence”, it agrees that forces are on alert, that it prevented a flare up and intensified its patrolling in troubled areas.
In an extraordinary exercise, Tripura Police is said to have identified 78,000 Twitter handles, only 30 of which used by people within the state, which shared video clips and photographs of the violence. Since the tweets originated outside Tripura, it was concluded that this was part of a conspiracy. But while Sepahijala District police clarified that no major incident had taken place, police in Naraura confirmed that an abortive attempt was indeed made to damage the moktab/ mosque.
The chairperson of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has expressed concern over attacks on Muslims in Tripura and urged the Union government to “stop violence against religious communities”.
The violence took place during a rally taken out by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad on October 26 in North Tripura in protest against the attacks on Hindus in Bangladesh. The High Court of Tripura has initiated a suo motu PIL. By the time the fact-finding team of lawyers reached the state from Delhi on October 30, Indori recalled, violence had already stopped. So, how could we have caused any disturbance, he wondered aloud.
The team comprising Supreme Court lawyer Ehtesham Hashmi, Advocate Amit Srivastav from Lawyers for Democracy, Advocate Ansar Indori of the NCHRO and Advocate Mukesh, on behalf of the PUCL released their findings on the communal violence in Tripura, at Delhi’s Press Club earlier this week. The UAPA notice requested them to “immediately delete these fabricated and false statements/comments made/circulated by you in the social media”, and directed them to appear before the West Agartala Police Station by the 10th of November 2021.
Freelance journalist Samriddhi Sakunia, who had been live-tweeting and sharing news of the violence in the state, reported The Leaflet, quipped, “Tripura Police is really trying hard to nab down people who are talking about the Tripura violence”, and noted how the police was checking her claims on social media instead of going after the perpetrators of the violence.