The Supreme Court on Wednesday stayed all criminal proceedings against HW News and two of its journalists who were charged by the Tripura Police for reporting on the communal violence in the state, Bar and Bench reported.
A bench of Justice DY Chandrachud also asked the Tripura government to respond to the plea filed by journalists Samriddhi Sakunia and Swarna Jha to quash the first information reports against them.
In November, the Tripura Police had arrested Sakunia and Jha while they were reporting on tensions in Tripura that had prevailed in the aftermath of a Vishwa Hindu Parishad rally.
In October, members of the Hindutva organisation, which was protesting against attacks on Hindus in Bangladesh, had allegedly damaged a mosque and several shops in Tripura.
But, the police had charged the journalists with spreading communal disharmony when they were covering the violence. They also face charges of “fabricating and concealing records” about the recent violence, apparently as part of “a criminal conspiracy”. They were granted bail a week later.
On Wednesday, advocate Siddharth Luthra, representing the journalists, told the Supreme Court that a first information report was filed against the journalists even after they were granted bail, Live Law reported.
“The difficulty that is faced is that you report the news, 1 FIR is registered, and then you register a second [FIR] really to say that we have now establish that in the first FIR, the journalists are wrong,” Luthra said. “This is usually untenable and not justified.”
The two journalists have challenged the Tripura Police’s allegations saying that they were reporting on facts and stories narrated by the victims, Live Law reported.
“The petition has been filed in relation to the targeted abuse of criminalising the reporting by petitioners and its correspondents/ reporters and illegal detention in relation to, reporting of events regarding violence qua minorities in the State of Tripura in the second half of October,” the journalists said in their petition.
The journalists also said that the first information reports amounted to targeted harassment of the press.
“If the State is allowed to criminalize the very act of fact-finding and unbiased reporting then the only facts that will come in the public domain are those that are convenient to the State due to the chilling effect on the freedom of speech and expression of members of civil society,” the petition read.