The Supreme Court on Monday freed activist Erendro Leichombam who was arrested under the National Security Act (NSA) over a Facebook post that stated “cowdung and cow urine won’t cure Covid” following a BJP's leader’s death.
Erendro, 40, was arrested along with a local journalist Kishorchand Wangkhem, 41, from their houses on May 13 based on an FIR lodged by Manipur state BJP vice-president Usham Deban and general secretary P Premananda Meetei.
Following the death of state BJP president S Tikendra Singh, who succumbed to the virus on the evening of May 13, the duo had stated in their Facebook posts that cow urine and cowdung were no cures for COVID-19.
A bench of Justice D Y Chandrachud and M R Shah has ordered to release him before 5 pm on Monday, after hearing arguments by advocate Shadan Farasat. The activist’s father L Raghumani Singh had filed a petition in the court, arguing that the NSA was only invoked to defeat the bail earlier granted to Erendro.
During the hearing of the case, the bench stated, “We cannot allow detention of this person even for a day.”
It observed that the continued detention of the petitioner would amount to a violation of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution.
“We accordingly direct that the petitioner shall be released forthwith as and by way of an interim direction of the Court, unless he is required to be in custody in any other case, subject to further orders, subject to his filing a personal release bond in the amount of Rs 1,000, and release him on or before 5 pm of Monday,” it stated.
The SC ordered the Registrar (Judicial) to communicate a copy of the order forthwith to the Manipur Central Jail, Sajiwa. The SC also accepted the request of Solicitor General of India, Tushar Mehta of listing the case on Tuesday and directed that the proceedings be listed tomorrow on Tuesday.
Kishorchand and Erendro were arrested by the Manipur police under Section 153-A and 505(b)(2) of IPC and also 295-A, 503, 504 and 34 of IPC.
Erendro, who is the convenor of People's Resurgence and Justice Alliance (PRJA), was charged with sedition following his controversial Facebook post in July last year.
He was granted bail by the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Imphal West on May 17 but an order was issued by the District Magistrate, Imphal West Th Kirankumar to book Erendro under NSA.
The order stated that Erendro’s activities were prejudicial to the security of the state and to the maintenance of public order.
Raghumani’s petition stated that the invocation of the NSA in his son’s case was a “misuse of preventive detention law to stifle completely innocuous speech that is fully constitutionally protected and was made in public interest.” He also argued that Erendro’s Facebook post was meant to curb misinformation around COVID-19 cures.
The petition mentioned that Erendro’s statement was made as a “criticism of the unscientific position taken and misinformation being spread by several BJP politicians regarding cow urine and cowdung being effective in preventing/treating COVID-19.”
The petition argued that his detention is in violation of the apex court’s April 30 order regarding the coronavirus pandemic, which states that any attempt to clampdown on information on social media by the authorities, including the call for help from people, would be treated as contempt of court. A separate contempt petition has also been filed in the top court.
Justice Chandrachud observed that his continued detention “would violate the right under Article 21” and asked for the activist to be released.
The bench also listed the matter for Tuesday after Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing on behalf of the government, said that he was not contesting the plea but would file a response.
Speaking to the media after he was released from Manipur Central Jail, Sajiwa, Imphal East on Monday, Erendro claimed that his arrest was ‘an act of political terrorism’ by the present administration.
He lauded the verdict of the Supreme Court and welcomed it as the right decision on the case. He said such acts of the present administration used to be carried out against freedom fighters during the colonial era. “The present administration will get the result of this imprisonment under NSA in the next poll,” he said.
Erendro further alleged the present administration of abusing the National Security Act (NSA) in order to silence the voice of the people. He said that whatever he wrote on social media, print or any other medium was the voice of people and what they felt towards the present administration.
“If any of us goes against the liking of the present administration then he/she would probably face a similar fate,” Erendro said, referring to his arrest under NSA.
Father of Erendro, Leichombam Raghumani said the government has the power to send his son to jail but the slapping of NSA was completely inappropriate.
Read More News from Manipur
(The Imphal Free Press is now on Telegram. Join IFP News Update Group and stay updated with the latest news and impact stories)