Two female journalists from the Indian state of Assam, both in their early 20s, were arrested by police in neighbouring Tripura state on 13 November for their reporting on anti-Muslim riots in Tripura for HW News Network, a statement by Religious Advocacy group, CSW has said.
According to the group, on the evening of 13 November, the Tripura police detained Samriddi Sakunia and Swarna Jha at their hotel, accusing them of instigating communal disharmony. The journalists were held in custody until about noon on 14 November, after which they returned to Assam. They were arrested again hours later and brought back to Tripura, before being granted bail by a court on 15 November.
The two journalists had been in Tripura to cover large-scale anti-Muslim violence which broke out in October and saw several arson attacks on mosques. They had also published a series of tweets with images of burnt mosques. The Tripura police accused them of spreading fake news based on a written complaint filed by Kanchan Das, a member of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the religious arm of the Rashtryia Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu fundamentalist group.
The arrests have raised serious concerns about freedom of the press in India, and have drawn widespread criticism from activists, watchdogs, politicians, citizens, and members of the media community.
According to the World Press Freedom Index of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a French NGO, India ranked 122nd in 2010 and has continued to decline over the years. In 2021, India ranked 142nd among 180 countries.
CSW’s Founder President Mervyn Thomas said: “CSW is concerned that these two women have been targeted for doing their jobs. Press freedom is vital for any democracy, however it does not seem to be a reality for far too many journalists in India. We urge the Indian government to safeguard freedom of the press and other fundamental human rights, taking measures to ensure that journalists are able to function in their space without fear of intimidation and reprisals. We also call for urgent investigations into the anti-Muslim violence in Tripura, and urge the Indian government to address the narratives of hatred and intolerance which have become so prevalent in Indian society, and which ultimately contribute to the outbreak of violence such as this.”