India Supreme Court blocks arrest of members of Editors Guild of India over Manipur report

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The FIRs filed by Manipur Police 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.” 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. A bench consisting of Chief Justice of India DY Chaudhrud, Justice JB Pardiwala, and Justice Manoj Misra, directed the Manipur Police on Wednesday to refrain from taking any coercive measures against guild members before the hearing scheduled for September 11. The bench stated that no coercive measures would be taken until the next date for listing against petitioners regarding the FIRs. Singh accused the Editors Guild of India fact-finding team of crimes against the State on September 4, just two days after their report was released. Singh claimed that the report did not reflect the reality on the ground, even though the guild’s fact finding mission had spent four days in Manipur interviewing different 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 fact-finding team of three members to Manipur between August 7 and 10 in order to prepare a four-day report. The guild published the report on Saturday, September 2, 2018. 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. The report also asserted that Manipur’s state government “turned partisan” during the ethnic conflict by vilifying ethnic minorities while promoting the Meitei majority. This report states:

With internet suspension, communication and transportation in chaos, the media was forced to rely on the narrative provided by 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 Christian Kuki and Naga groups, which already have the status of Scheduled Tribes, protested vehemently against the High Court’s 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. A video showing the sexual assault on two Kuki-Zo tribe women in Manipur was released by the media on July 17. The court then ordered federal oversight over the Manipur Police investigations into ethnic and sexual violence.