Tripura minister Sushanta Chowdhury on Monday alleged that the two journalists who were arrested recently for their reportage on the anti-Muslim violence in the state had come to the state as agents of a political party, the Hindustan Times reported.
Chowdhury made the remarks hours after a court granted them bail. He, however, did not name any particular political party.
The journalists, Samriddhi Sakunia and Swarna Jha, have been charged under Indian Penal Code sections 120(B) (punishment for criminal conspiracy), 153(A) (offence of promoting disharmony, enmity or feelings of hatred between different groups on the grounds of religion) and 504 (intentional insult).
Chowdhury, the information and cultural affairs minister in the Tripura government, claimed in a press conference that Sakunia and Jha came to Tripura “with an intention to affect communal peace and cause a riot-like situation”. He alleged that they sought to provoke people with fake footage.
The minister claimed that they did not co-operate with the police in connection with a case lodged against them at the Kakraban police station. The case at Kakraban in Gomati district is one of the two FIRs lodged against Sakunia and Jha, the other being lodged at the Fatikroy police station in Unakoti district.
“They told the police that they will take a flight to New Delhi from Agartala,” Chowdhury claimed. “But then they escaped to Nilambazar in Assam without any intimation. If they are journalists, why did they need to escape?”
Chowdhury alleged that Sakunia posted fake photos and footage on her Twitter handle showing that a mosque had been burnt in Tripura. He claimed that such posts instigated people to resort to violence in Maharashtra’s Amravati district.
“Whatever happened in Maharashtra…who did this?” Chowdhury said, according to The Indian Express. “A section of journalists, like Samriddhi Sakunia and Swarna Jha, who came to Tripura on behalf of a party, to create communal instigation and malign the state in front of the country.” He also said he has questions about whether they were journalists at all.
The minister alleged that Sakunia and Jha were provoking people against the ruling party in Tripura. “They were trying to unite a particular religion,” he claimed. “That’s why the FIR was registered. The police wanted to talk to these people to know where they came from and why, since it is an issue of internal security.”
Reports of communal violence first emerged 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 in October.
But the police claimed that no mosque had been burnt in the district.
On Sunday morning, the Tripura Police had filed a first information report against Sakunia and Jha, who work for the news channel HW News, based on a complaint by a person named Kanchan Das. He had alleged that Sakunia and Jha made an “instigating speech” against the Hindu community and the Tripura government while visiting people from the Muslim community in the Unakoti district’s Paul Bazaar area.
Press bodies and political leaders have condemned their arrests. Media body Digipub said that the police had invaded the privacy of the journalists by demanding their Aadhaar and transport details.
Scroll.in is among the founding members of the Digipub News India Foundation. The other members of the association are HW News, Alt News, Article 14, Boomlive, Cobrapost, Newsclick, Newslaundry, The News Minute, The Quint and The Wire.
The Editors Guild of India and the Foundation for Media Professionals also condemned the police action and demanded that the journalists be released immediately.