SC protects Editors Guild from arrest in Manipur FIRs over fact-finding report | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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SC protects Editors Guild from arrest in Manipur FIRs over fact-finding report

ByAbraham Thomas
Sep 06, 2023 04:34 PM IST

The petitioners argued that an avalanche of hate has been built against them on the social media platforms, which gives rise to a strong apprehension that in case they are arrested and taken to Manipur, they may not come back alive

The Supreme Court on Wednesday protected the Editors Guild of India and three of its journalists from arrest in two criminal cases lodged against them in Manipur following the release of a fact-finding report on the ethnic violence in the state that accused the local media to be biased and the government to be partisan during the conflict.

The Supreme Court of India. (File Photo)
The Supreme Court of India. (File Photo)

Taking up the matter on an urgent mentioning by the journalists’ body, a bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud agreed to take up the petition on Monday and directed a copy of the petition to be supplied to the Manipur government for taking instructions. The bench, also comprising justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, further directed, “In the meantime, no coercive steps shall be taken in connection with the two FIRs registered against the petitioners.”

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Senior advocate Shyam Divan appeared for the president of the Editors Guild, claiming that a situation of “very grave urgency” has arisen following the release of the fact-finding report published by it on September 2. A day later, two FIRs were lodged at Imphal and Porompat police stations by social activists who alleged that the report sought to create a false, misleading narrative aimed at promoting enmity and stoking communal tensions in the state, besides insulting the Meitei community.

The FIRs were also registered against three journalists – Seema Guha, Sanjay Kapoor and Bharat Bhushan, forming part of the fact-finding team who visited the state from August 7 to 10 and interviewed a cross-section of people including journalists, local women, human rights activists, Assam Rifles officers, NGOs among others to know what happened on the ground during the period of violence.

The FIRs were filed under sections 153-A (promoting enmity), 298 (uttering any word with deliberate intention of wounding religious feelings), 505 (statement to incite violence against any class or community of persons), 499 (criminal defamation), 120-B (criminal conspiracy) among other provisions of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

Divan, appearing for the four petitioners along with advocate Udayaditya Banerjee said, “We are apprehending serious threat to our life. The chief minister of the state, N Biren Singh has held a press conference and made a statement imputing commission of offences as detailed in the FIR against the Editors Guild.” The report highlighted the shortfalls, misadministration and partisan activities by the state government and commented critically on the internet ban which affected transparency and objectivity in coverage of the violence by the media, making them largely dependent on what was told to them by the state authorities.

Appearing for the state, advocate Kanu Agarwal told the court that the petitioners could be asked to approach the Manipur high court instead of directly approaching the top court. Divan pointed out that in an identical case the court protected members of another fact-finding team of the National Federation of Indian Women (NIFW), who were slapped with a criminal case for their findings against the state. The top court protected them from arrest or any coercive action for four weeks enabling them to approach the high court in the meantime.

The bench agreed to pass a similar order on Monday after hearing the response of the state government on the petition.

Denying that any of the offences alleged against them are made out from the report, the petition filed by advocate Amarjeet Singh Bedi said, “An avalanche of hate has been built against the petitioners and the Editors Guild on the social media platforms, which gives rise to a strong apprehension that in case the petitioners are arrested and taken to Manipur, they may not come back alive.” They apprehended a fair trial in view of the volatile situation prevailing in the state.

The EGI said that its report is meant to alert the authorities and to develop appropriate responses and solutions to assist them in decision making to uphold the rule of law. Instead, the state chose to implicate them in carrying out their duties as a media watchdog, which is “symptomatic” of a flagrant disregard of the rule of law by the authorities, the petition added.

The report titled “Report of the Fact-Finding Mission on Media’s Reportage of the Ethnic Violence in Manipur” in its conclusions found that during the ethnic violence, journalists of Manipur wrote one-sided reports. The internet ban made matters worse as communication blockade by the government had a “deleterious effect” on journalism impacting the ability of journalists to communicate with their sources.

The report further said that the media became a party to the “vilification of the security forces”, especially the Assam Rifles. The fact-finding mission further found “clear indications” to show the leadership of the state became “partisan” during the conflict and said that the executive, bureaucracy, police and other security forces of the state was divided along ethnic lines.

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