Manipur: SC extends protection against arrest for editors guild members
The SC noted that the issue was related to a report, not a ground-level offence, and is considering transferring the matter to Delhi or Manipur High Court
The Supreme Court on Monday extended until 15 September its order asking Manipur Police not to take coercive steps against four members of the Editors Guild of India (EGI) in connection with two FIRs lodged against them for alleged offences, including promoting enmity between two communities. The matter will be heard again on 15 September.
A bench comprising Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra was hearing a writ petition filed by journalists Seema Guha, Sanjay Kapoor, Bharat Bhushan, and Seema Mustafa, the president of EGI, challenging the FIRs filed against them.
On 6 September, four members of EGI were granted interim protection from FIRs registered by Manipur Police over a fact-finding report on the ethnic violence in the state.
During the hearing, the apex court observed that the issue was related to a report and was not a case of an offence committed on the ground. The court added that they were unlikely to quash the FIRs and was considering if the matter should be transferred to Delhi High Court or Manipur High Court.
"It is a report after all. What they are arguing is this that they have done a report. This is a matter of subjective opinion. This is not one of the cases where somebody was there on the ground and committed some offence. They published a report. You may make a larger statement that without any concession or any other future case there is no objection…,” said Chandrachud to solicitor general of India Tushar Mehta, who was representing Manipur.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, who is representing the petitioners, stated that EGI went to Manipur on the request of the army to write a report. He pointed out that the Army requested the guild to file a ground report.
“This is the letter from the army to the editors guild stating that we should see what is happening there — unethical, ex-parte reporting by the vernacular media. It is at their invitation that we went,” said Sibal.
When the CJI asked why the army wanted EGI to go to Manipur, Sibal replied that the army wanted an objective assessment of what is happening at the ground. Sibal underscored that once the EGI had submitted its report, it could not be prosecuted for offences under the penal code for the same.
Countering, Mehta said he would not be arguing on the merits of the case and instead wanted the matter to be heard by Manipur High Court. He said the petitioners need not approach the Supreme Court for the same.
This was opposed by Sibal who pointed out that lawyers in Manipur were also withdrawing and that there was an attack against a lawyer for representing a Kuki professor. “How can these offences stand? Allow us to prosecute the matter in the High Court here,” said Sibal.
Mehta stated that the petitioners could even appear virtually before the Manipur High Court. However, Sibal reiterated his earlier submission and referred to the statements made by the chief minister of Manipur against the EGI.
"This report was filed on 2 September. On the night of 3 September, an FIR was registered. On 4 September, the chief minister made a statement,” said Sibal. Mehta objected to his statement and said, “If you want to make it political at a national level, we can. Otherwise, the High Court can deal with it.”
The EGI had moved the Supreme Court seeking directions under article 32 of the Constitution to quash two FIRs registered by the state police.