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Law

SC Shields Journalist from Arrest Over Tweets on Manipur Violence

Independent journalist Makepeace Sitlhou made allegedly critical remarks against Manipur government's failure to control the spiraling violence in the state. 

New Delhi: The Supreme Court has stayed criminal proceedings against independent journalist Makepeace Sitlhou, after she made critical remarks on Twitter against the Manipur government’s alleged failure to control the spiraling violence in the state.

She was named in a first information report (FIR) registered at Imphal (West) police station, by slapping against her Sections 120B (criminal conspiracy), 153A (promoting enmity between two groups), 500 (defamation), and 505(2) (statements conducing to public mischief) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The FIR was based on a complaint by one Lairenlakpam Sandeep, a resident of Lamboikhongnangkhong.

The complainant alleged that Sitlhou had “used social media platforms as a tool to propagate misleading statements and to destabilise a democratically elected government, disturb communal harmony by creating enmity amongst communities and to defame the state government and one particular community”, The Leaflet reported.

He also went on to allege that Sitlhou, through her tweets on the social media platform X (formerly known as Twitter), made “false statements and propaganda” with the purpose “to incite one particular community, to topple such democratically elected government”. Her statements, he said, are a “threat to the security of the state”.

Sitlhou, in her petition, hit out at the arguments made by the complainant and defended her 12 tweets which are under scrutiny. Her petition underlined that as a journalist she tweeted against rumours, violence, and the lack of action and political will on the part of the political establishment.

“The petitioner has further expressed her opinion against the deeply unfortunate demands for certain ethnic groups to ‘go back where they belong’ and has highlighted the ethnic nature of the violence that had prevailed at the time of authoring the tweets,” Sithlhou’s petition said.

She further said, “Any incursion on the freedom of the petitioner as a citizen and a journalist to uncover and present the truth, protected by Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution, would have a chilling effect on journalism in the country.”

A bench led by Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, and comprising Justice J.B. Pardiwala and Justice Manoj Misra, granted her relief. “Pending further orders, there shall be a stay in proceedings concerning the FIRs against her. Issue notice. Serve to the standing counsel of the Manipur government,” CJI dictated the order, according to Livelaw.

The Manipur government is facing allegations of filing cases indiscriminately against journalists, who are reporting and expressing views on unabated ethnic violence in the state. In September, the apex court granted interim protection to three journalists from the Editors Guild of India from coercive action after they were booked by Manipur Police.