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Facing UAPA charges by Tripura govt, social media users claim ‘booked for raising critical questions’

Tripura minister for Information and Cultural Affairs Sushanta Chowdhury said, “So far as law and order is concerned, the government is very much serious. We’ll not allow anything which will allow communal destabilization…"

Written by Debraj Deb | Agartala |
Updated: November 7, 2021 11:07:48 pm
A paramilitary soldier patrols past a shop that was set on fire in Rowa village, about 220 kilometers from Agartala. (AP)

After Tripura Police booked 102 social media handles for allegedly posting content to disturb communal harmony, many of these users — charged with forgery, criminal conspiracy and under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) — claimed they have been booked for raising “critical questions”.

The Editors Guild of India also flayed the move of the state government. 

Tripura Police had booked four Delhi-based lawyers under the UAPA last week, after they visited the state and held a press conference alleging that minorities were attacked in different parts of Tripura in the aftermath of religious vandalism in Bangladesh. Alleging “one-to-one correlation” between these statements and the rise of communal propaganda on social media, police later booked 102 social media users under the same charges.

The allegations that police booked netizens for raising questions have come in the midst of clarifications from the state government and police that the action is aimed at maintaining communal peace, law and order, and not to disrupt freedom of speech.

Meer Faisal, a social media user who has been booked under the UAPA, wrote on Twitter, “Tripura Police is trying to cover up their complicity by dragging ‘Fake Rumours’ narrative. It is called a shifting goalposts. Many of us booked for raising critical questions over institutionalized planned violence not for rumours. Let’s not succumbed to fake narrative.”

Faisal further argued in a separate tweet, “There are always cases of rumours in such violence. These fears need to be considered as ‘REAL’. Hence such rumours need to be given benefit of doubt. But yes people on social media need to be cautious while sharing information.”

CJ Werleman, another social media user, wrote, “I have been booked by Indian police in Tripura for reporting evidence of terrorist attacks against Muslims. The BJP government in Tripura has also blocked an investigation into anti-Muslim violence.” He deleted some of his tweets later.

Some of the other social media users argued that the UAPA is a stringent Act and it should not be applied in their case. “Draconian laws like UAPA shouldn’t exist. #RepealUAPA”, wrote one Sharjeel Usmani.

Shyam Meera Singh, another social media user and journalist booked by Tripura Police, said: “Tripura Police has registered a case under UAPA against me for my tweet of three words on ongoing incidents at Tripura. I’ve got FIR copy of Tripura Police. In a second notice, police mentioned one of my tweets. The tweet was ‘Tripura is burning’. Tripura’s BJP government used UAPA based on my tweet of three words…”

Meanwhile, the Editors Guild of India has expressed concern over Tripura Police’s action against social media users, including journalists. It said in a press statement, “The Editors Guild of India is deeply shocked by the Tripura Police’s action of booking 102 people, including journalists, under the coercive Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, for reporting and writing on the recent communal violence in the state. The state police has sent notices to various social media platforms under UAPA. This move comes a few days after the police had filed UAPA charges against some Delhi-based lawyers who had visited Tripura as part of an independent fact-finding enquiry commission into the communal violence.”

Citing Shyam Meera Singh’s case, the Editors Guild of India said booking him for merely posting a tweet of three words is an “extremely disturbing trend”.

“This is an extremely disturbing trend where such a harsh law, where in the process of investigation and bail applications are extremely rigorous and over-bearing, is being used for merely reporting and protesting against communal violence”, the press statement read.

The Guild has also reiterated its earlier plea to the Supreme Court to take cognizance of the matter, alleging laws were being unjustifiably used against freedom of speech, and to issue stringent guidelines on charging journalists under such laws, to ensure that the provisions don’t become an easy tool for suppressing press freedom.

Speaking to indianexpress.com, Tripura Information and Cultural Affairs minister Sushanta Chowdhury clarified that his government has not curtailed freedom of speech and expression of anyone but is only trying to maintain law and order and communal harmony.

“So far as law and order is concerned, the government is very much serious. We’ll not allow anything which will allow communal destabilization… a section of people from outside tried to hatch a deep-rooted conspiracy over here with a motive to unite members of a particular religion across the country against the Narendra Modi-led BJP government. This attempt will not work here. Everything is now in order. Whatever they tried to do was foiled by the government of Tripura. In the coming days as well, we shall deal with everything with strong hands”, Chowdhury said.

He also claimed that “peace, tranquillity and communal harmony are prevailing in Tripura” under the rule of the BJP.

Notably, according to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, only two cases were registered under the UAPA in Tripura from 2016 to 2020.

The NCRB’s annual reports from 2016 to 2020 noted that among the north-eastern states, 1,421 cases were registered in Manipur under the UAPA between 2016 and 2020, followed by Assam with 820 cases, 36 cases each in Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh, 17 cases in Meghalaya, two cases in Tripura and one case in Mizoram.

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