December 9, 2022

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Indian journalists accused of inciting unrest have been granted bail

Image Courtesy: Associated Press

Swarna Jha and Samriddhi K. Sakunia were reporting on religious tensions in the state, where minority Muslims were attacked last month.

A court in Tripura, India’s northeastern state, granted bail to two Indian journalists jailed over the weekend on allegations of inciting communal violence after tweeting that religious attacks on Muslims were worse than police had recorded.

Swarna Jha and Samriddhi K. Sakunia were reporting on religious tensions in the state, where minority Muslims were attacked last month. Police stated at least one mosque, as well as many Muslim-owned shops and homes, had been vandalised, but that no one had been killed.

The attacks were interpreted as retribution for violence against Hindus in Bangladesh earlier this month. Muslims make up less than 9% of Tripura’s population of almost 4 million people, which borders Bangladesh.

The journalists were granted bail on Monday after the judge determined that “their custody was not essential for the investigation since it would amount to invasion of their personal liberty,” according to Pijus Kanti Biswas, the reporters’ lawyer.

The journalists were detained for “inciting communal violence by posting fake and fraudulent news on social media,” according to police.

The authorities were stopping them from performing their job, according to their employer, HW News Network, a digital news programme, who called their incarceration “sheer harassment” and “targeting of the press.”

Last Thursday, the two reporters landed in Tripura and began covering the aftermath of the attacks. Sakunia posted a series of videos and photos of trashed mosques on Twitter, including one that showed photos of broken windows and damaged interiors in an attack she said police had denied. She claimed she went to the Chamtila mosque in Panisagar, which she claimed had been vandalised. “Tripura police refuted the report, claiming that nothing of the sort had occurred. “However, my report from the ground shows different,” she wrote in a Saturday tweet.

Sakunia subsequently tweeted that cops informed them they couldn’t leave the hotel where they were staying on Saturday night. They were given permission to leave on Sunday, but were then held in Assam at the request of Tripura police.

The reporters were jailed, according to the Indian Express newspaper, for their “individual tweets,” not for news reporting provided by the media organisation.

Journalists and human rights organisations have slammed their incarceration, claiming that India’s media liberties are under attack. The country’s standing on the World Press Freedom Index has slipped in recent years, with a 2020 ranking of 142nd out of 180 countries.

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