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Manipur Report: Police Files FIR Against EGI Chief, 3 Senior Journalists

A case has been filed against Seema Mustafa, Seema Guha, Bharat Bhushan, Sanjay Kapoor under IPC sections and 66A whihc has been declared “unconstitutional” by the SC.
Editors Guild Expresses Grave Concerns over Digital Protection Bill's Impact on Press Freedom

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New Delhi:  The Manipur Police has filed an FIR against a fact-finding team of Editors’ Guild of India (EGI) comprising three seasoned journalists – Seema Guha, Bharat Bhushan and Sanjay Kapoor -- and the president of EGI, Seema Mustafa. The case has been filed under some IPC sections and Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, invoking a provision that had been struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional, says a report in

The First Information Report (FIR) follows a report released by EGI on Saturday after the visit of the fact-finding team that found “one-sided” reports on the ongoing ethnic violence in the Manipur media and also noted how the prolonged internet ban had made it very difficult for reporters to take “a balanced view”.

The police have filed cases against EGI chief Seema Mustafa and the three senior journalists who authored the report and visited the state on August 7-10.

The Editors’ Guild members were booked under various sections of the IPC including 153A (promoting enmity between two communities), 200 (using false declaration as true), 298 (deliberate intent to wound religious feelings), and under provisions of the Information Technology Act and Press Council Act.

Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh on Monday said that his government has filed an FIR against the president and three members of the Editors Guild of India, and accused them of trying to create more clashes in the state which is rocked by ethnic strifes for nearly four months, according to PTI.

According to a report in, ‘the complaint alleged that the report was “false, fabricated [and] sponsored]”. It said that a photo in the report falsely claimed to show smoke rising from a Kuki home, when it was in fact the office of a forest official. The complaint said on this account itself, it was obvious that the report was false and was “sponsored by Kuki militants”.

However, the EGI on Sunday issued an apology and correction in the photo caption in the report that crept in at the “photo editing stage” and said an updated report would be released soon.

It may be recalled that earlier, too, women’s fact-finding team comprising leaders of National Federation of Indian Women and an advocate were booked by the Manipur Police -- Annie Raja, Nisha Siddhu and Deeksha Dwivedi – were booked by the Manipur Police after they visited the state and released a fact-finding report.

Read Also: Manipur: Stop Criminalising Human Rights Work, Says PUCL After 3 Women Leaders Booked

The NFIW report had expressed the view that the May 3 violence in Imphal and surrounding areas was “state-sponsored”, and that the team’s visit to Imphal and other conflict-driven areas, showed that “people on both sides want peace to return and the State Government should put in sincere efforts to bring normalcy”.

On Saturday, the EGI team said that that they found that ground reporting from Kuki-majority districts like Churachandpur, Kangpokpi and Tengnoupal had disappeared in the days after the clashes broke out on May 3.

“Newspersons informed me that their correspondents in the hill districts had even stopped answering phone calls from around mid-May,” a senior civil society leader in Imphal told the EGI team.

The EGI report cited more than 10 instances of fake news and disinformation being spread in the local media.

“It is now visible that the ethnic divide deepened progressively through fake news, which finds space only in Imphal media,” the report said.

The report also found that media in Imphal “vilified” security forces, especially Assam Rifles, alleging that the state government “tacitly supported this vilification by allowing the Manipur Police to file a first information report against the Assam Rifles.

The EGI in its report published on Saturday said it received several representations that the media in Manipur was playing a partisan role in the ongoing ethnic conflict between the Meitei and Kuki-Chin communities.

"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 said.

In normal circumstances, the EGI said, reports filed by journalists are cross-checked and monitored by their editors or chiefs of bureaus from the local administration, police and security forces, but this was not possible during the conflict.

"The internet ban made matters worse. Communication blockade by the government had a deleterious effect on journalism as it directly impacted the ability of journalists to communicate with each other, their editors and their sources. It also impacted the media because local news gathered without any communication links was not sufficient to give a balanced view of the situation," the report said.

It said with the internet suspended, and communication and transport in disarray, the media had to rely almost entirely on the narrative of the state government.

The EGI pointed out that members of the state leadership labelled sections of the Kuki-Zo tribals as "illegal immigrants" and "foreigners" without any reliable data or evidence.

"This despite the fact that the decadal census from 1901 to 2011 has not shown any unusual growth of the non-Naga (the other minority tribal community) tribal population," the report said.

The fact that there was a military coup in Myanmar which led to an inflow of about 40,000 refugees to Mizoram and reportedly about 4,000 to Manipur "was used to brand all Kuki-Zo as illegal immigrants".

"This was presented as pressure on resources but was also a war for political space, with the politicians using the fear of the outsiders to consolidate its political position," it said.

While the All Manipur Working Journalists Union and Editors Guild Manipur criticised the EGI for its "allegations based on hearsay”, the Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum (ITLF), an apex Kuki body, slammed the Biren Singh government and said it is "aghast at the legal threat" issued against the Editors’ Guild of India (EGI), "the conscience keeper for the (media)industry" and condemned filing of an FIR against it.

It also termed the police case as a sign of "government’s intolerance towards anyone who disagrees with its narrative".

Recall that Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had recently told the media in New Delhi that he had never encountered such a “distressing” situation anywhere in the country.  The Lok Sabha MP, who visited Manipur said: “Thea re is complete divide in Manipur…”

He cited the depressing scenario of his own security set-up, where they were asked to remove any Kuki person from the team if they were visiting a Meitei area and a Metei person, if they were visiting a Kuki area.

The EGI is yet to give a statement on the FIR, said NDTV.

Section 66A, which was introduced in 2009 in the Information Technology Act -2000, criminalises the sending of offensive messages through a computer or other communication devices.  It was struck down by the apex court in 2015.

Press Club of India Strongly Condemns FIRs

The Press Club of India has issued a  statement strongly condemning the lodging of police case against three members of a fact-finding committee of the Editors Guild of India and its President on the media coverage of the ethnic clashes and violence in Manipur.

“The police have invoked Section 66A of the Information and Technology Act even though the provision has been struck down by the Supreme Court. On multiple occasions, the apex court has directed that nobody should be prosecuted under the provision. The entire issue revolves around the role of the media, and it is evident that the Editor's Guild did a commendable job by sending a fact-finding team to check the ground situation and information which are being suppressed”, read the statement.

Terming it as a “strong arm tactic” by the state government “which amounts to intimidation of the apex media body of the country”, the statement said that “at a time when violence-marred Manipur needs utmost attention of the government, such a move by the state government would only make the matters worse and would be seen as a deliberate attempt to suppress the truth.”

It said the police cases amounted to “shooting the messenger rather than taking measures to restore peace in the state.”

The journalists’ body demanded that the FIR against EGI President and the three members be withdrawn immediately.

(with inputs from PTI)

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