The Supreme Court today has directed the State of Tripura not to take any coercive steps against the two advocates and one journalist who had been booked by the state police under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) for allegedly sharing fake information on the Tripura violence on social media.
A three-judge bench of Chief Justice N.V. Ramana, and Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and Surya Kant issued notice in a plea challenging the invocation of the UAPA, 1967 by Tripura against members of civil society including advocates and journalists who have documented and spoken out against the targeted atrocities in the communal violence in the State.
The Petition has been filed by Advocates Mukesh and Ansarul Haq Ansari and a journalist through Senior Advocate Prashant Bhushan. The Tripura Police has issued notices of Section 41(a) under Code of Criminal Procedure against the two lawyers who were booked under UAPA for allegedly sharing fake information of the Tripura violence on social media.
Previously, Senior Advocate Prashant Bhushan mentioned the matter before the Bench of CJI N.V. Ramana, Justice AS Bopanna and Justice Hima Kohli seeking urgent listing of the case, which was accepted by the Supreme Court.
According to the petition, if the State is allowed to criminalize the very act of fact finding and reporting, and that too under the stringent provisions of the UAPA in which anticipatory bail is barred and the idea of bail is a remote possibility, 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. If the quest for truth and reporting thereof itself is criminalized then the victim in the process is the idea of justice.
Such circumstances strike at the very foundations of a participative democratic society as it curbs the ‘free flow of information and ideas’ and no inconvenient facts will be available in the public domain for the citizenry to demand ‘corrective action’ from the State where there have been shortcomings and lapses on it’s part, the petitioners said.
It is stated in the petition that around October 14, 2021 reports emerged from Bangladesh of violence against the Hindu minorities during the period of Durga Puja on allegations of blasphemy. In a counterblast, right-wing forces in Tripura started fomenting religious passions against Muslims. Processions by right-wing political forces were led ostensibly to protest against the violence in Bangladesh but that led to violence against Muslim minorities in Tripura.
“In a targeted and orchestrated manner, there were incidents of arson, looting, and violence on the establishments of Muslim citizens and attacks and burning of mosques at various places in Tripura. There was major violence during a rally by right-wing forces such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad on 26.10.2021. News of the ensuing violence that followed have been widely reported in international media,”
-said the petition.
A four-member fact finding team of advocates including petitioners visited some of the affected regions in Tripura between the dates of October 30 and November 1, 2021. On the basis of their interaction with the persons affected by the violence and visit to sites where attacks on mosques had occurred, they put in public domain a fact-finding report titled as “Humanity Under Attack in Tripura #Muslim Lives Matter”, published by Lawyers for Democracy, in a press release at the Press Club of India on November 2.
On 03.11.2021, a day after the report was made public, at the West Agartala Police Station under sections 153a/153b/469/471/503/504/120b of Indian Penal Code and Section 13 of Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967, against “unknown persons”, and subsequent issue of Section 41(a) notices under Code of Criminal Procedure to the Two Lawyers / Petitioners No. 1 and 2 on the same date is an attempt to curb the free flow of information from the riot affected areas given that there is nothing in the report which even remotely supports any secessional activity, or questions the sovereignty or territorial integrity of India, or causes any disaffection against the State of India .The FIR is an attempt to muzzle their freedom of speech and expression and registration of FIR qua them is ex facie absurd, malicious, and abuse of process of law, alleged the petition.
It is pertinent to note the Tripura High Court has taken suo motu cognisance of the violence and sought a report from the state government.