The Supreme Court on Wednesday stayed all proceedings against two women journalists accused by Tripura Police of spreading “fake visuals” of communal violence in the northeastern state last month.
The women – journalists from the HW News Network – were named in two FIRs filed by police for “spreading communal disharmony” following their reporting on the communal violence in the state.
The top court today halted all proceedings in both FIRs and issued a notice to Tripura Police.
“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,” Justice DY Chandrachud said.
Justice Chandrachud was part of the three-member bench hearing this matter; the other two were Justice Surya Kant and Justice Vikram Nath.
Earlier, senior advocate Siddharth Luthra, appearing on behalf of the journalists, argued: “The difficulty they faced is that they reported the news and an FIR was registered… and then a second FIR was registered saying that the report is wrong.”
The court was acting on a plea by Theos Connect (a media company that operates HW News Network), Associate Editor Arti Ghargi, and the two journalists – Samridhi Sakunia and Swarna Jha.
Tripura police had registered the FIRs alleging the journalists’ reports promoted enmity between groups, and spread communal hatred by publishing baseless news about communal violence.
The petitioners had challenged the police action by saying that they were only doing ground reporting of facts, based on versions given by the victims of the violence.
The petitioners called the FIRs “targeted harassment of the press”.
Ms Sakunia and Ms Jha were detained last month at a police station in Assam’s Karimganj district, where they were held for three-and-a-half hours before Tripura Police arrived to arrest them.
“We asked them (Tripura Police) 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,” the journalists said of their arrest.
They were given bail two days later; the argued that Tripura Police had filed the case with “mala fide intention”, and accused the cops of (e arlier) intimidating them and preventing their movement.
The controversial arrests pertained to tweets alleging a mosque in Tripura had been vandalised during a rally by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.
The Home Ministry issued a strong denial, saying the reports were fake and “complete misrepresentation of facts” and Tripura Police registered five cases against 71 people – including Supreme Court lawyers, activists, and religious campaigners – for the posts.