The Manipuri High Court on Friday ordered the release of journalist Kishorchandra Wangkhem, who has been charged under the National Security Act, reported Bar and Bench.
Wangkhem, along with activist Erendro Leichombam, were charged under the 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.
The police had arrested Leichombam and Wangkhem on May 13. Later on May 17, an Imphal court granted them bail, but before they could be released, the government invoked the National Security Act.
“Cow dung [and] cow urine didn’t work,” Wangkhem had written in his Facebook post. “Groundless argument. Tomorrow, I will eat fish.”
On Monday, the Supreme Court had ordered the release of Leichombam, saying that his “continued detention of the petitioner would be a violation of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21”.
The order to release Wangkhem was passed by a bench of Chief Justice PV Sanjay Kumar and Justice KH Nobin Singh on a petition moved by the journalist’s wife Ranjita. The High Court ordered that the journalist should be released by 5 pm on Friday, reported Live Law.
Advocate Chongtham Victor, representing Wangkhem, said that the matter of compensation for his client’s unlawful detention will be decided on August 24.
In her petition in a form of a letter addressed to the judges of the High Court, Ranjita had stated Leichombam and Wangkhem were arrested on the same charges. While the Supreme Court ordered Leichombam’s release, Wangkhem is still in jail, she said.
The High Court also observed that there was no difference between the cases of Leichombam and Wangkhem as both of them had put up similar Facebook posts.
Borrowing observations from the Supreme Court’s verdict in Leichombam’s case, the bench said: “As they stand identically situated, we are of the opinion that the continued incarceration of the petitioner’s husband [Wangkhem] would be as much a violation of Article 21 of the Constitution [right to life or personal liberty] as it was in the case of Erendro Leichombam.”
In May, the Imphal court had criticised the police and said that they should not arrest someone under section 41 of the Criminal Procedure Code before they can “satisfy themselves” on the reasons behind the arrest. The section pertains to the arrests that the police may make without issuing a warrant.
The court had said the police should explain their reasons behind the arrest and warned that a failure to comply would lead to departmental action.
In 2018, the police had invoked the National Security Act against Wangkhem after he posted a Facebook video critical of Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.