Tripura police target Twitter accounts of Govt critics, activists

Tripura, Nov 18: The crackdown by the Tripura police, which invoked the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and sections of the Indian Penal Code, targeted critics of the BJP and its leaders, and even lawyers who called for action and a probe into alleged attacks on the minority community.

Two weeks after Tripura police asked Twitter to block 68 handles and provide user details, 24 profiles have been taken down while 57 tweets are no longer available, including 23 “withheld in India in response to a legal demand”.

The majority profiles are new — 15 joined Twitter during 2020-2021, 19 between 2015 and 2019, 7 between 2010 and 2014. Most handles have low reach – 8 have less than 10 followers, 17 less than 100 followers, and 21 less than 1,000 followers. There are 12 with more than 10,000 followers.

Many among these handles have been critical of the BJP, its leaders, and its ideology. A scrutiny of the handles showed that 9 users identified themselves as journalists, 7 as political workers, 5 as students, 2 as activists while 7 were affiliated with religious organizations. Several profiles did not have any personal description.

The handles included those who claimed to be members of the Congress, Youth Congress, Trinamool Congress, the AIMIM, and Bhartiya Insan Party (BIP).

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This apart, four lawyers who came to Tripura as a fact-finding team under the aegis of Lawyers for Democracy were also booked on November 3 after they claimed that people from the minority community had been targeted at Panisagar in North Tripura. They called for police action and a judicial probe.

Notices were served to the four lawyers — Ehtesham Hashmi, Supreme Court lawyer, Amit Srivastav, Coordinator of Lawyers for Democracy, NCHRO national secretary Ansar Indori and PUCL member Mukesh Kumar – with police invoking IPC sections and the UAPA to book them overstatements “promoting enmity between religious groups” and “provoking the people of different religious communities to cause a breach of peace”.

On November 3, police served notices to Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, asking them to block accounts and pages of 102 users who allegedly posted the content that “have potential to flare up communal tension in Tripura state between people (of) different religious communities, which may result in communal riots”. Police said a case had been registered at the West Agartala police station on charges of forgery, criminal conspiracy, and UAPA.

Citing “one to one correlation” of the lawyers’ statements and “communal propaganda” on social media, police booked these social media users on the same charges in the same case.

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The notice, sent through Twitter Law Enforcement Online Request System from West Agartala police station, stated: “In publishing these news items/posts, the persons/organizations have been found using photographs/videos of some other incidents, fabricated statements/commentary for promoting enmity between religious groups/communities in presence of a criminal conspiracy. The posts have potential to flare up communal tension in Tripura State between people (of) different religious communities, which may result in communal riots”.

Ten days later, a press release from the office of Tripura Director General of Police V S Yadav stated that 128 social media posts had been identified so far and these comprised 94 Twitter posts, 32 Facebook posts and 2 YouTube posts.