The N Biren Singh-led Manipur government has filed a case against four members of the Editors Guild of India who visited the ethnic clashes-hit region last month on a fact-finding mission. Addressing a press conference, Chief Minister N Biren Singh said that the Editors Guild did not have the authority to carry out an investigation in the state and were trying to create further unrest.
“The State government has filed an FIR against the members of the Editors Guild who are trying to create more clashes in the state of Manipur,” Singh said.
The police have invoked Section 66A of the Information and Technology Act despite it being struck down by the Supreme Court last year. Section 66A was used to authorise the State to imprison an individual over “offensive and menacing” posts on the internet.
Apart from this, the police have also charged the members under Indian Penal Code sections 153A (promoting enmity between groups), 295 (damaging or defiling a place of worship), 298 (uttering words with deliberate intent to hurt religious feelings) and 505 (statements conducing to public mischief), along with Section 13 of the Prevention of Corruption Act (criminal misconduct by a public servant).
The FIR has been filed against Seema Guha, Bharat Bhushan and Sanjay Kapoor – the authors of the EGI report on Manipur – as well as the president of the Guild, Seema Mustafa.
"...I also give a warning to the members of the Editors Guild, if you want to do something, then do visit the spot, see the ground reality, meet the representatives of all communities and then publish what you found. Otherwise, meeting some sections only and coming to a conclusion is highly condemnable," the CM said at the press briefing.
According to the complaint filed by the Manipur government, the EGI report was “false, fabricated [and] sponsored”, pointing out an image showing smoke rising from a Kuki house in Manipur. It alleged that the report was “sponsored by Kuki militants”. Notably, the Guild had issued an apology on Sunday admitting to an error in a photo caption in the report.
The Editors’ Guild fact-finding team, in its September 2 report, stated that the State and media had become partisan in the coverage of the Manipur conflict. “There are clear indications that the leadership of the state became partisan during the conflict. It should have avoided taking sides in the ethnic conflict but it failed to do its duty as a democratic government which should have represented the entire state,” the report concluded.
“During the ethnic violence, journalists of Manipur wrote one-sided reports. In normal circumstances, they would be cross-checked and monitored by their editors or Chiefs of Bureaus from the local administration, police and security forces,” it stated about the media coverage, adding that the internet ban “made matters worse”.
In July too, the police had filed an FIR against a fact-finding team of Annie Raja and Nisha Siddhu, who are associated with the National Federation of Indian Women; and Delhi-based lawyer Deeksha Dwivedi who had reported that the ongoing violence in the northeastern state was “state-sponsored”. They were charged with provocation, defamation and waging a war against the state.