The Supreme Court has stayed further proceedings in FIRs against journalists Samridhi Sakunia, Swarna Jha, Arti Ghargi who work at the digital news portal HW News. The bench headed by Justice DY. Chandrachud also “stayed all further proceedings pursuant to the FIRs dated 14.11.2021 and 18.11.2021” reported Live Law. The three-member bench hearing this matter includes Justice Surya Kant and Justice Vikram Nath.
The SC issued notice on a writ petition challenging the FIRs registered by the Tripura police over their reportage of the communal violence in the state. The plea was filed by media news portal’s company Theos Connect, and its reporters Samridhi Sakunia and Swarna Jha, and Associate Editor Arti Ghargi. The court granted four weeks’ time for filing the counter-affidavit.
First step towards winning the case ?? @Jha_Swarnaa ♥
— Samriddhi K Sakunia (@Samriddhi0809) December 8, 2021
The bench also sought a response from the Tripura authorities over a petition filed by the two journalists and the independent media firm against the FIRs﹘that were lodged against them for allegedly instigating communal violence through “fake” news. Justice DY Chandrachud said, “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.”
Senior Advocate Siddharth Luthra, representing the petitioners, submitted, that while the journalists were granted bail another FIR was also registered, highlighting the challenges that have been faced “you report the news, 1 FIR is registered, and then you register a second really to say that we have now established that in the first FIR, the journalists are wrong. This is really untenable and not justified” reported Live Law.
Journalists Samriddhi K. Sakunia and Swarna Jha, were detained and subsequently arrested on Sunday, November 14 were granted bail by the Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM) Court in the Gomati district of Tripura. Sammriddhi Sakunia and Swarna Jha were covering the recent violence in Tripura. They were detained in Assam on Sunday after a case was filed against them by the Tripura police for “spreading communal disharmony”. They were in Assam, on their way back from Tripura, where they had gone to gather news from the neighbourhoods affected in the recent communal riots.
After a Hindutva group supporter filed an FIR, the women were hounded by police, first in Tripura, and then in Assam, both governed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), for allegedly disrupting communal harmony. The two Delhi-based journalists alleged that they had been “intimidated” by local police personnel in the hotel at Dharmanagar area of Tripura, where they were staying during their reporting visit to the state. On Sunday, they were detained in Assam, another BJP-governed state.
After much pressure from local journalists’ associations and lawyers, and being detained at the police station for over four to five hours, they were sent to a Shelter home at Nilambazar near the police station. Initially the Tripura police team was insisting on their detention/arrest without any woman official present. Citizens for Justice and Peace, with its wide network of rights activists in the state, assisted in legal aid for the duo. The bail to the two female journalists was granted, on a bail bond of Rs 75,000 each.
In the Supreme Court the petitioners challenged the police action, “The petition has been filed in relation to the targeted abuse of criminalising 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 during the second half of the month of October 2021,” Live Law reported on the writ petition filed under Article 32 of the Constitution, adding that the FIRs amount to “targeted harassment of press” and that “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. If the quest for truth and reporting thereof itself is criminalized then the victim in the process is the idea of justice.”
According to the LiveLaw report the petitioners have sought the following reliefs:
Quashing FIR registered at Tripura under sections 120B, 153A, 504 of IPC qua petitioners;
Quashing FIR 82 under sections 153A, 153B, 193, 204, 120B, 504 IPC;
Alternatively seeking transfer of FIRs to the competent court in Delhi as there is an apparent risk and threat to life of petitioners in Tripura.
They have argued that the offence of hate speech alleged against them is “bizarre” as the journalists’ endeavour was fact Finding and ground reporting of the communal riots which took place in Tripura and that these FIRs are “inspired by politics”. They argued that they are “being subjected to immense pressure and their media related activities are being frustrated by prolonged action of the respondents” and that “the alleged case is not limited to just the two petitioner journalists but entire rolls of the company are subjected to investigation.” HW’s Associate Editor Arti Ghargi was also issued notice u/s 160 CrPC by the Tripura Police “and the time sought by her was rejected by the Investigating Officer in a threatening and intimidating manner,” they stated, adding that when she went to the Police Station, she was met with “great intimidating tactics at the hands of the State Agency and similar treatment was given to journalists Samridhi Sakunia and Swarna Jha.”