A court in Tripura’s Gomati district on Monday granted bail to journalists Samriddhi Sakunia and Swarna Jha who had been arrested for covering the recent anti-Muslim violence in the state, ANI reported.
Earlier on Monday, the Tripura Police had arrested the two journalists, who work for news channel HW News, on charges of spreading communal disharmony. They also face charges of “fabricating and concealing records” about the recent violence, apparently as part of “a criminal conspiracy”.
Several press organisations have put out statements protesting against the police action. The Editors Guild demanded that the journalists be released immediately.
“Our reporters have been arrested by the Tripura Police around 12.55 am from a shelter home in Assam’s Karimganj after securing their transit remand,” HW News said in a tweet. “They are being taken back to Tripura where they will be produced before Udaipur magistrate court.”
On Sunday, Sakunia and Jha had alleged that they were being held captive in a hotel in Dharmanagar sub-division of North Tripura district. They finally managed to leave the state in the afternoon, but the police of neighbouring Assam detained them in Karimganj district. From here, they were arrested by the Tripura police on Monday morning.
In a video statement, Sakunia had said that she and Jha were served a copy of the first information report on Sunday morning and more than 15 policemen were deployed outside the hotel where they were staying.
The police also took Aadhaar and transport details of the two journalists, Sakunia said.
Reports of communal violence had emerging from Tripura last month. Activists of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad had allegedly vandalised a mosque and properties of Muslims in North Tripura during a protest against the anti-Hindu violence in Bangladesh earlier that month. The police claimed that no mosque had been burnt in the district.
The journalists are now booked in two police cases in Tripura. One of them was filed at the Fatikroy police station in North Tripura district on Saturday.
The complainant, a man named Kanchan Das, alleged that Sakunia and Jha had made an “instigating speech while visiting people from the Muslim community in the Unakoti district’s Paul Bazaar area.
Das also claimed that Sakunia and Jha had blamed the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal for burning a mosque in the Paul Bazaar area.
The complainant alleged that the journalists were a part of the criminal conspiracy to damage the communal harmony of Tripura and malign the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Tripura government.
The other complaint against the journalists was registered at the Kakraban police station in Gomati on Sunday for “creating hatred between religious groups by fabrication, concealing documents,” a statement issued by the Tripura director general of police said.
The statemen pointed to a video tweeted by Sakunia on November 11. The video records her visit to Darga Bazaar in Kakraban and appears to show the interiors of a burnt mosque. At one point in the video, she pointed to burnt pages lying on the ground, and said “people say that this is Quran”.
“This is contradictory to the finding so far revealed in the course of the investigation as presence of no such damaged books or documents was brought to the notice of investigation officer and fire service staff who extinguished the fire,” the Tripura police said on Sunday.
The police statement added that on Sunday morning Sakunia was asked to provide details of the “document” seen in the video.
“She told the police that the document was available at the alleged place of occurrence and it is the responsibility of the police to trace the document,” it added.
An unidentified police officer told The Indian Express: “Investigation suggests that the video [posted by Sakunia] may have been doctored. We want to be sure if this was done in connivance with anyone or not.”