The Supreme Court on Monday ordered the release of Manipuri activist Erendro Leichombam, who has been charged under the National Security Act, Bar and Bench reported. The court also set a 5 pm deadline for the activist’s release.

Leichombam, along with journalist Kishorchandra Wangkhem, were charged under the stringent Act in May, for Facebook posts they put up after the death of Manipur Bharatiya Janata Party chief Saikhom Tikendra Singh due to Covid-related complications. They had criticised the saffron party for purportedly promoting cow urine as a cure for the infection.

Leichombam was taken into custody on May 13.

The activist had written in his post that cow dung and urine were not a cure for the coronavirus and expressed condolences at the death of the BJP leader. “The cure is science and common sense,” the post added.

Leichombam’s father L Raghumani Singh had in June filed a petition in the Supreme Court challenging his detention.

During the proceedings on Monday, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said that he would take instructions from the Centre and requested the court to hear the case on Tuesday. But the court insisted on passing an order granting interim relief to Leichombam.

“He cannot be kept in jail even for a day,” Justice DY Chandrachud said. “We are of the view that continued detention of the petitioner would be a violation of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21.” It also directed Leichombam to submit a personal bond of Rs 1,000.

In his petition, Leichombam’s father had argued that the Manipur Police invoked the National Security Act only to defeat the bail granted to the activist earlier. Leichombam was booked under the Act on May 17, shortly after a local court had granted him bail.

Singh said that his son had been preventively detained solely to punish him for his criticism of Bharatiya Janata Party leaders for advocating cow dung and cow urine as cures for Covid-19.

He cited the Supreme Court’s order from April 30, in which it had warned the state governments against stifling the voices of citizens on social media amid the health crisis.

“It is a settled position of law that statements of criticism of politicians or government office bearers, no matter how harsh, do not by themselves amount to a disruption of public order, unless there is clear evidence to show that such statements could lead to incidents (such as rioting) which would disturb public order,” Singh said.

Leichombam is the convenor of a Manipur-based political party, People’s Resurgence and Justice Alliance, which he had co-founded with activist Irom Sharmila in 2016 after she ended her 16-year-old fast for the removal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act from Manipur.

The activist is a vocal critic of the BJP. In 2020, he had been charged with sedition for his Facebook posts.