“By considering the legitimate freedom of speech and expression in both its off line and on line avatars as unlawful activity, the Tripura police are overstepping the bounds of their legal authority and without any legitimate cause violating constitutionally protected rights. By asking that Mukesh and Indori remove their social media posts, they overstep the limited authority they have been conferred in Section 41-A of the IPC.”
– from the PUCL statement
On Nov 3, 2021, Tripura Police registered an FIR under the UAPA against “Lawyers for Democracy”, a team of advocates from Delhi, who had conducted a Fact Finding Enquiry into communal violence incidents in Tripura in mid-end October, 2021. Besides, police also charged them for their social media posts, which police alleged, was false and inciting disharmony.
Civil liberties groups have condemned the lodging of such draconian charges against human rights activists. The following is a detailed statement from People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL):
The PUCL strongly condemns the Tripura Police for registering a FIR dated 03rd November, 2021 under the UAPA and other draconian provision of the IPC against a team of advocates from Delhi, the “Lawyers for Democracy”, for conducting a Fact Finding Enquiry into communal violence incidents in Tripura in mid-end October, 2021. It is clear that the police have invoked the draconian provisions of UAPA law only because of the findings of the FFT that the large scale violence which destroyed numerous homes, shops, mosques and other properties of Muslims in many towns in Tripura was the result of orchestrated violence unleashed by Hindu majoritarian groupslike the VHP and HJM, against minority Muslims with the tacit connivance and conscious abdication of their duties by the Tripura police.
What is most shocking is that the West Agartala Police Station has sent a notice u/s 41 A of the Criminal Procedure Code to Advocates Mukesh, National Co-Convener, AILAJ and member of PUCL- Delhi and Advocate Ansar Indori of the National Confederation of Human RightsOrganizations (NCHRO)imputing that it was their social media posts, statements and Report which were responsible for“promoting enmity between religious groups as well as provoking people of different religious communities to commit breach of peace”.
The absurdity of the police accusation and the malice underlying the police case becomes evident by the fact that the Fact Finding Team of the Delhi Advocates visited Tripura on 29th and 30thOctober, 2021AFTER the outbreak of communal violence which occurred between 12th to 26th October, 2021. The team neither abetted nor provoked the violence, so even the lodging of the FIR by the police is nothing but a case of abuse of powers.
What is most disturbing for all those who are concerned about human rights in India is that the Tripura police are seeking to criminalize what is not only a constitutional freedom but also a constitutional and democratic duty of every citizen, to seek the truth about incidents of communal violence so as to fix accountability and transparency from the political and bureaucratic executive. In this case, the Tripura police is seeking to criminalise a Fact Finding exercise as the role of the police and state administration have been exposed.
The Context: What triggered the FIR against the advocates?
What is the crime that the Tripura Police are ostensibly investigating?
What advocates Mukesh and AnsarIndori, as well as advocates Ehtesham Hashmi and Amit Srivastav did is to take seriously the Fundamental duty under Art 51A(h) – to ‘promote“harmony and the spirit of brotherhood’ as well as the duty to ‘cherish and follow the noble ideals which inspired our national struggle for freedom’. With this constitutional motivation founded in a search for truth and justice, disturbed by the violence in Tripura, they went to Tripura to understand the root cause of the violence.
They produced a report titled, ‘Humanity under attack in Tripura’ which documents the attacks on Muslim establishments and the vandalization of mosques and the terrible impact of the violence in creating insecurity in the minority population which took place in several districts between approximately 12th to 26th October, 2021. The report quite unambiguously points to the role of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and other right wing, Hindutva based groups in instigating the violence and the complicity of the state in allowing that to happen.
Evidently the findings in the Report as well as the wide publicity the report got in the media were not to the liking of the Tripura government as it was quite clearly pointing to the role of majoritarian extremist organisations in the violence as well as the complicity of the BJP – ruled state in the violence.
It is undoubtedly a desire to control the narrative on the violence that has prompted the Tripura Police to issue the notice. The state also seeks to send out a message, that fact finding is a risky endeavor especially if you are challenging the narrative of the current dispensation. Such wanton prosecution is also meant to send a chilling message to others from joining such Fact Finding exercises in the future, especially in BJP ruled states.
UAPA against the Advocates: Vindictive action to silence truth
What exposes the Tripura police action against the Delhi lawyers as a brazen, undisguised attempt to silence truth and to terrify and frighten future fact finding exercises are actions initiated by the Tripura High Court.
On 29.10.2021 the CJ’s Bench of the Tripura High Court Suo Motu took cognisance of incidents of violence on 26th October, 2021 in North Tripura district, Unakoti District and Sipahijala Districts. The High Court order notes that the Advocate General of Tripura had submitted a Note stating that a Vishwa Hindu Parishad rally of over 3500 people had been organised in Panisagar of North Tripura district to protest against attacks in Bangla Desh in Hindus during the Puja period. During the rally clashes occurred in which 3 shops were burnt down, 3 houses damaged and mosques damaged. The Report of the Advocate General lists the various FIRs registered in several districts where communal violence had taken place.
The HC while deprecating the spread of morphed and “false, fictitious or fabricated news articles or footages” being spread in social media also pointed out that “The media has every right, as part of their activities, to publish the truth. It should not be allowed to spread untruth and spread communal passion”.
Similarly, on 2nd November, 2021, the NHRC also took on file a complaint filed by the TMC against the communal violence in Tripura and asked the Chief Secretary and the DGP of Tripura to file a status report before the NHRC in 4 weeks.
It is very clear that from mid-October onwards as reports started getting published about attacks during Durga puja on Hindus in Bangla Desh, tension started building up in many parts of Tripura, especially in parts where former BanglaDesh origin Hindus had settled in. Several media reports points out that prior to the incidents of 26th October, 2021, the VHP, Hindu Jagran Manch and their affiliated organisations had organised numerous rallies and gatherings where the mood was markedly aggressive and demands made for retaliation against Muslims in Tripura. For example the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and other Hindutva groups wanted to take processions in Futamati, Maharani and Hirapur area of Gomati district, which are minority dominated. When police refused permission, stone pelting occurred injuring policemen and others.
Similarly, on Thursday, 21st October, 2021, a 10,000 strong rally of VHP was organised in Dharmanagar in North Tripura District while another rally was organised in Agartala of West Tripura district by 13 Hindutva related organisations.
So very clearly, the atmosphere in Tripura from mid- October, 2021 was surcharged with feeling of communal hostilities against the minorities. This resulted in a series of attacks against Muslim owned properties . Although the district police in some districts had taken pre-emptive action in several places to curb outbreak of violence, there were allegations that the state police had not effectively taken action in time and had by acts of omission and commission aided the right wing, Hindutva based majoritarian groups to attack with impunity minority Muslim houses, properties and religious places of worship.
This being the fact situation, the Fact Finding exercise undertaken by the 4-member team of Advocates was to visit the affected areas and gain a first-hand understanding of how events unfolded, by talking to the victims and various parties involved. Their Report indicated that they had spoken to the police officials also. It is for this act of truth finding that the advocates are being penalized by a UAPA based cr
First they came for the journalists; then the student activists, now the advocates …
Over the last few years, we have seen the Indian Government assiduously going after all independent voices which seek to challenge its narrative and question its policies. Journalists have been targets of attack under this regime.A study by the Free Speech Collective has documented that there have been 198 serious attacks on journalists documented in the period between 2014 and 2019, including 36 in 2019 alone.
The notice under UAPA to Mukesh and Indori escalates the attack to now include advocates. Advocates perform a vital role in a democracy. Beyond the important function of legal representation, advocates have historically played the role of public spirited individuals in the quest for justice. Advocates have played a seminal role in India’s freedom struggle too.
Read and Download the entire statement here: