Interviews

US based editor of Tripura news portal hounded and harassed for reports on BJP leaders

BJP governments in state and Centre have been hounding him for exposing crime and corruption of BJP leaders in Tripura and criminal cases against them, says Sarker in an email interview

Saumen Sarker (social media)
Saumen Sarker (social media)

NHS

Saumen Sarker is a banker in the United States. He has lived there for the past 20 years. Hailing from Tripura and an expert on cyber security, he started a website Tripurainfoway.com in 2014, registered it in the USA, in order to encourage, he says, independent journalism in Tripura. The website was blocked by the Government of India in December, 2018 after it published investigative reports about a murder case in which a prominent BJP leader was earlier arrested. The reporters of the website have been intimidated by the police and it has been conveyed to Sarker that he would be arrested under the National Security Act and put behind the bars if he tried to return to India. Sarker answered questions mailed to him by National Herald on Sunday. Excerpts from his reply:

The murder for which the BJP leader was arrested dates back to 2014. BJP, however, formed the government in 2018. When and how did the intimidation begin?

Trouble started in September 2018 after we published reports about BJP general secretary Pratima Bhowmik’s involvement in her sister-in-law Chabi Debnath’s murder on April 17, 2014.

You started the website Tripura info way in 2014. Wasn’t the case reportedbefore the BJP formed the government in Tripura?

We didn’t know about the case before 2018 as Pratima Bhowmik was unknown politically. After the BJP govt came into power in March 2018, she rose into prominence as BJP general secretary and the cases against her were reported to us by the general public.

Police must have investigated the casein 2014...

Initially she was arrested and put in jail. Charges against her were filed U/Sections 498(A)/306/506/34/IPC with the Case No being 19/14 US/498(A)/302/34/IPC. Late Chabi Debnath’s father Sunil Debnath filed the FIR at 11.30 pm on April 17, 2014.

A charge sheet was also filed in April 2014, a trial also took place. But the main complainant, Sunil Debnath, mysteriously died or was killed by poisoning. Sunil Debnath was father of the murder victim,Chabi Debnath. Thereafter, prime accused Pratima Bhowmik was released on bail as the main complainant was dead

When was the website blocked bythe government? Were you servedany show-cause notice or issued anywarning?

No, no notice was served. The site was blocked on December 3, 2018 about which we came to know from users. It was blocked in India only.The site, registered in the US, is accessible everywhere except in India. In fact, a prominent authority on journalism standards in the US,Rider University, did a legal assessment of tripurainfoway.com’s contents and gave it high standards for its journalism.

So, you have never been informed why the site has been blocked

No, never

A newspaper clipping we see carries your photograph with former Tripura DGP Mr Subramaniam. What was it all about?

The photograph was taken in January 2014 on the occasion of Police Week Celebration at Tripura Police HQ, Agartala. I was conducting a workshop on cyber crime. The photograph shows the then Tripura Police DGP, C Subramaniam and other senior police officials.

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