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Tripura UAPA charges: Supreme Court nod to urgent hearing of plea over UAPA invocation against 2 lawyers, journalist

The Tripura Police had 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 on the Tripura violence on social media.

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A petition has been filed in the Supreme Court challenging the invocation of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) , 1967 by the state of Tripura against members of civil society, including advocates and journalists, who have documented and spoken out against the targeted atrocities in communal violence in the state.

The petition has been filed by two advocates Mukesh and Ansarul Haq Ansari and a journalist through Senior Advocate Prashant Bhushan. On Thursday, Bhushan mentioned the matter before a bench comprising Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana, Justice A.S. Bopanna and Justice Hima Kohli seeking urgent listing of the case, which was accepted by the bench.

The Tripura Police had 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 on the Tripura violence on social media.

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 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 participatory 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 its part, the petitioners said.

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It is stated in the petition that around October 14 this year reports emerged from Bangladesh of violence against Hindu minorities during Durga Puja over allegations of blasphemy. In a perverse counterblast, right-wing forces in Tripura started fomenting religious passions against Muslims. Processions by right-wing groups were led ostensibly to protest against the violence in Bangladesh but that led to violence against Muslims 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 the petitioners, visited some of the affected regions in Tripura between October 30 and November 1. On the basis of their interaction with persons affected by the violence and visit to sites where attacks on Mosques had occurred, on November 2, they put in the public domain a fact-finding report titled “Humanity Under Attack in Tripura #Muslim Lives Matter”, published by Lawyers for Democracy, in a press release at the Press Club of India.

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On November 3, 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 CrPC to the two lawyers / petitioners 1 and 2 on the same date is an attempt to curb the free flow of information from riot-affected areas, the petition said. Given that there is nothing in the report which even remotely supports any secessionist activity, or questions the sovereignty or territorial integrity of India, or causes any disaffection against the Indian State. 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.

“The vagueness of the definition of unlawful activity, the ‘wide net’ that it casts on freedom of speech and expression, it’s tendency to bring within its fold mere criticism of government policies or actions of the day without any affect on security of India, and it’s indiscriminate use by the authorities against those critical of the government in view of the absolute bar on anticipatory bail in Section 45(d)(4) of the Act of 1967 and almost impossibility of securing bail under Section 45(d)(5) of the Act of 1967 produces a ‘chilling effect’ on freedom of speech and expression,”

-the petition reads.

It is pertinent to note that the Tripura High Court has taken suo motu cognisance of the violence and sought a report from the state government.

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