Tripura violence: India court grants bail to detained journalists

Image source, Pinaki Das
Image caption,
Samriddhi K Sakunia (left) and Swarna Jha were detained for 'spreading communal disharmony'

An Indian court has granted bail to two journalists who were detained in India's north-eastern state of Tripura for "spreading communal disharmony".

They were reporting on religious tensions in Tripura following recent attacks on mosques and properties owned by Muslims.

Journalists and media right groups had criticised their detention and called for their immediate release.

Their employer, HW News Network, accused officials of "harassment".

The Indian network said the Tripura government was preventing them from reporting facts through "sheer harassment" and "targeting of the press".

The journalists - Samriddhi K Sakunia and Swarna Jha - were reportedly held in response to a complaint by a local Hindu right-wing activist who alleges that they gave a speech "instigating" Muslims against the Hindu community in an area they had visited.

The charges against them included criminal conspiracy and "promoting enmity" between religious groups, according to the police complaint shared by Ms Sakunia on Twitter.

The two women had been tweeting through their detention - Ms Sakunia tweeted that they were first detained at the hotel on Saturday night, and were allowed to leave on Sunday afternoon.

But later that day they were again detained in neighbouring Assam state and handed over to Tripura police, according to HW News.

A magistrate court in Tripura's Gomati district granted them bail on Monday.

During the course of their reporting, they tweeted images and videos of mosques that had been vandalised, which appeared to contradict the police who had denied one of the incidents.

Ms Sakunia tweeted on Sunday that she had to face "intimidation" while reporting in Tripura. India's home ministry called it a "complete misrepresentation of facts".

But recent attacks on mosques in Tripura have sparked religious tension. Properties owned by Muslims were also vandalised as right-wing Hindu groups sought to protest recent attacks on Hindus and vandalism of temples in neighbouring Bangladesh.

Tripura is encircled on three sides by Bangladesh and connected by a thin corridor to the neighbouring Indian state of Assam.

Image source, PINAKI DAS
Image caption,
Muslim properties were targeted in the recent violence in Tripura

On 13 November, Ms Sakunia tweeted photos showing broken windows, fans and switchboards from inside one mosque in Panisagar town - she wrote that the locals had to repair it contradictory to police claims that it was "safe and secure".

They also asked people to not "like/retweet" unverified social media posts on the alleged vandalism "since it amounts to rumour mongering".

Ms Sakunia had also tweeted a video on 12 November of a mosque that was allegedly burnt down on 19 October in a different district - she said no action had been taken since a police complaint was registered.

Police have not responded to this specific report although they have said no mosque was burnt down in Panisangar or the district where the town is located.

But they have since filed complaints against several journalists reporting on the violence and lawyers who had released a report on the attacks, alleging they were spreading fake news which in turn was disturbing peace.

They also filed complaints against 102 Twitter handles under a stringent anti-terror law, claiming it was to stop the spread of fake news.

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a petition challenging the complaints.

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