SC protects four members of Editors Guild from arrest
Top court seeks response of state government on the plea filed by the Guild and fixed the matter for hearing on Sept 11
In a relief to four members of the Editors Guild of India (EGI), the Supreme Court Wednesday directed the Manipur police not to take any coercive steps against them till September 11 in connection with two FIRs lodged for offences including promoting enmity between two communities.
On September 4, Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh had said a police case had been filed on the basis of a complaint against the president and three members of the Editors Guild of India and accused them of trying to “provoke clashes” in the state.
A second FIR was also registered against the four members of the Guild, with the additional charge of defamation.
“Till next date of listing, no coercive step shall be taken against the (four) petitioners in connection with the FIRs...,” a bench comprising Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra ordered after a brief hearing.
The top court also sought the response of the state government on the plea filed by the Guild and fixed the matter for hearing on Monday.
Initially, the bench was of the view that it will protect the EGI members against possible coercive State action for a limited period and, in the meantime, they can move the Manipur High Court for relief.
However, the bench later kept the case to itself after hearing senior advocate Shyam Divan who appeared for the journalists’ body.
Giving details of the case, Divan said the Editors Guild had prepared a report after sending three of its members to the ground in Manipur.
“They (EGI members) went there for four days between August 7 and August 10, 2023 and they published a report. The report is dated September 2, 2023 and there was a small error in the report which was corrected immediately on September 3,” he said.
The senior lawyer said two FIRs were lodged on the basis of the report alleging that “incorrect and false statements” have been made in it which provokes enmity.
“This is why we are here and we are very seriously apprehending that this kind of coercive machinery may act against us,” he said adding even the chief minister made a statement at a press conference to allege EGI made “provocative statements”.
Taking note of submissions, the bench protected the EGI members till Monday.
Earlier, the top court agreed to hear their plea, which was not listed, on an urgent basis during the day itself. The initial complaint against the EGI president and its three members was filed by Ngangom Sarat Singh, a retired engineer who had worked for the state government.
The second FIR was lodged by Sorokhaibam Thoudam Sangita of Khurai in Imphal East district.
Besides EGI president Seema Mustafa, those who have been booked are senior journalists Seema Guha, Bharat Bhushan and Sanjay Kapoor. They visited the state between August 7 and 10 to study media reportage on the ethnic violence.
The Editors Guild, in a report published on September 2, slammed the internet ban in the state as being detrimental to media reportage, criticised what it termed as one-sided reporting by some media outlets and claimed there were indications that the state leadership had “turned partisan” during the conflict.