The India Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered that no coercive actions should be taken against the four members of the Editors Guild of India over formal complaints, known in India as first information report (FIR), filed by Manipur Police accusing the guild of promoting enmity between different groups, defamation and criminal conspiracy—among other charges. Manipur Police’s FIRs against the guild members are centered around a September 2 report from the guild that condemned local Manipur media coverage of the issue, claiming it was “one-sided.”
The matter is currently scheduled for a hearing on September 11. On Wednesday, a bench comprised of Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, Justice JB Pardiwala and Justice Manoj Misra directed the Manipur Police to take no coercive action against guild members ahead of the September 11 hearing. “Till the next date of listing, no coercive steps shall be taken against the petitioners in connection with the FIRs,” the bench said.
Despite the bench’s initial thoughts of disposing of the writ petition by granting limited protection, the Supreme Court found merit in the petitioners’ argument that the Chief Minister of Manipur N Biren Singh’s statement constituted a real threat. On September 4, two days after the guild released their report, Singh accused the Editors Guild of India’s fact-finding team of committing crimes against the state. Singh asserted that the report was not based the on-the-ground reality in Manipur, despite the fact that the guild’s fact-finding mission spent four days on the ground in Manipur interviewing various parties about their experiences. The court found that, because of Singh’s threat, the issue requires further consideration.
The Editors Guild of India is a non-profit organization that aims that to protect press freedom in India. The guild sent a three-member fact-finding mission to Manipur for four days between August 7 and August 10 to prepare a report. The guild then published that report this past Saturday, September 2. Since then, two FIRs have been filed against the guild, accusing them of trying to “provoke clashes” in the state and defaming the state respectively.
In their report, the guild criticized Manipur’s internet ban as being detrimental to media reporting and called out skewed reporting by some media outlets. Furthermore, the report asserted that Manipur’s state government “turned partisan” during the ethnic conflict, perpetrating the vilification of ethnic minorities and promoting the majority Meitei community. The report reads:
With the internet suspended, and communication and transport in disarray, the media had to rely almost entirely on the narrative of the state government. This narrative under the N. Biren Singh dispensation became a narrow ethnic one playing up to the biases of the majority Meitei community.
The rule of law began has steadily fractured in Manipur since the outbreak of ethnic violence over a March order from the Manipur High Court in the case of Mutum Churamani Meetei v. The State of Manipur. The order, authored by Justice M V Muralidharan, directed the inclusion of the Hindu majority Meitei community in the list of Scheduled Tribes, which comes with access to educational, employment and other economic benefits. The predominantly Christian Kuki and Naga communities, who already enjoy the status of Scheduled Tribes, launched protests vehemently criticizing the High Court order. Consequently, violence broke out to such a heightened degree that the government ordered the Chief Minister of Manipur, N. Biren Singh, to immediately take measures to restore peace. Even after that, a video depicting the sexual assault of two Kuki-Zo tribal women in Manipur surfaced on July 17, prompting the court to order federal oversight of Manipur Police’s probes into the ethnic and sexual violence.