Apex Court extends protection from arrest to fact-finding team members of Editors Guild of India
The Supreme Court on Monday extended till September 15 the protection from coercive action it has granted to four members of the Editors Guild of India (EGI) in connection with two FIRs lodged against them and sought the view of the Manipur government on whether to transfer their plea for quashing the FIRs and other relief to the Delhi High Court for adjudication. A bench comprising Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and justices P S Narasimha and Manoj Misra observed orally as to how FIRs were lodged on the basis of a report of the fact-finding committee of the EGI when the four were not involved in criminal activities on the ground.
The apex court said it was not inclined to quash the FIRs and was mulling whether their plea can be transferred to the Delhi High Court or the Manipur High Court should take it up. The court decided to hear the matter on September 15. The journalists have sought the quashing of the FIRs against them and protection from any coercive action by the Manipur police. The bench also took note of the submissions of senior advocates Kapil Sibal and Shyam Divan, appearing for the journalists’ body, that the EGI members had undertaken the fact-finding study in pursuance of a letter written by the Army on July 12.
“It is a report, after all. The basic question is, what they are arguing is that they prepared a report and this is a matter of their subjective opinion…This is not one of the cases where somebody was there on the ground and committed some offence,” the bench said. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Manipur government, said the EGI members may be protected for some more time and the matter be sent to the Manipur High Court as done in other cases.
The counsel for the EGI opposed the submission and said the matter be heard either in the top court or be transferred to the Delhi High Court, contending that FIRs cannot be lodged on the basis of a fact-finding report. Sibal said the EGI did not volunteer to go to Manipur and went there after the Army wrote to them. It was the Army that wanted an objective assessment of the media coverage on the ground, he said. The Editors Guild and its members cannot be prosecuted under the IPC for giving the report, he asserted.
Sibal referred to alleged incidents of attack on lawyers in Manipur and said, “It is hazardous to go there at this point in time.” The senior lawyer referred to the statements made by the Manipur Chief Minister about the FIRs in a media briefing. The bench said it was not going to quash the FIRs as it will need appreciation of facts at this stage and observed that it will deliberate upon whether the EGI can be asked to move the Manipur High Court or the matter can be transferred to the Delhi High Court.
On September 4, Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh said a police case had been filed on the basis of a complaint against the president and three members of the Editors Guild of India, and accused them of trying to “provoke clashes” in the state.
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