Supreme Court on Wednesday stayed all the proceedings against HW News Network and two of its journalists — Samriddhi Sakunia and Swarna Jha who were booked in connection to the Tripura communal violence.
The matter was heard by a three-judge bench comprising Justice DY Chandrachud, Justice Surya Kant, and Justice Vikram Nath.
The bench has also issued the notice to the Tripura police over a plea filed by the two journalists and media company HW News Network to quash the FIRs lodged against them.
“We’ll issue a notice (to Tripura Police) seeking their response. There shall be a stay of all further proceedings pursuant to FIR No 39 registered in Tripura and FIR No 82. A counter-affidavit (by the petitioners) is to be filed within four weeks,” said Justice Chandrachud.
Advocate Siddharth Luthra representing the petitioners told the court that Tripura police filed an FIR even after they were granted bail.
“The difficulty that is faced is that you report the news, 1 FIR is registered, and then you register a second [FIR] really to say that we have now establish that in the first FIR, the journalists are wrong. This is usually untenable and not justified,” Luthra submitted.
Targeted Harassment of Press
The two journalists denied the Tripura police’s allegations saying that they only reported the facts and stories narrated by victims.
“The petition has been filed in relation to the targeted abuse of criminalizing the reporting by petitioners and its correspondents/ reporters and illegal detention in relation to, reporting of events regarding violence qua minorities in the State of Tripura in the second half of October,” the petition stated.
Calling the FIRs merely targeted harassment of press, the petition stated, “If the State is allowed to criminalize the very act of fact-finding and unbiased reporting 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.”
Why Swarna Jha and Samriddhi Sakunia Were Arrested?
The two journalists were detained last month at a police station in Karimganj district in Assam. They were held there for over 2-3 hours till the Tripura police reached to arrest them.
“We asked them to wait, saying our lawyer is on way. But they loudly said, ‘no one is coming’. They also did not show us a copy of the order,” told the two journalists.
They were arrested on November 14 for publishing false news aimed at disrupting communal harmony. It was about the tweets alleging a mosque in Tripura had been vandalized during a rally by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.
The two were booked under Section 120B (criminal conspiracy), Section 153A (promoting enmity between religious groups) and Section 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace) of the Indian Penal Code.
However, they got bail on November 15. Chief Judicial Magistrate’s court in Gomati district granted the bail while noting that the alleged offences against them were serious in nature but to have kept them in detention would have been extreme curtailment of personal liberty.
The Home Ministry denied vandalism reports, terming them fake and complete misrepresentation of facts. Tripura Police registered five cases against 71 people – including Supreme Court lawyers, activists, and religious campaigners in connection to the posts.