The Editors Guild of India on Friday expressed concerns about the Patna High Court’s gag order that restrains the media from reporting about the investigation into the alleged rapes of minor girls at a shelter home in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur. The organisation said it was distressed to learn that the court had curbed media freedom instead of protecting it.

On August 23, the Patna High Court said it was concerned about investigation details being leaked to the press. It then asked reporters not to publish them as it could hamper the investigation. Thirty-four minor girls were raped at the state-run shelter, according to a report of Patna Medical College and Hospital.

The Editors Guild of India appealed to the chief justices of the Supreme Court and the Patna High Court to review the order and uphold the principles of a free media and democracy. “The guild condemns such orders as it believes that such restrictions on reporting on investigations into a matter of public importance are counterproductive,” it said in a statement. “The guild decries the recent growing trend of courts issuing such restraint orders on the media that undermine one of the pillars of democracy.”

The case

The alleged sexual exploitation of children in the shelter came to light after Mumbai’s Tata Institute of Social Sciences submitted an audit report of 110 shelter homes in the state in April. The audit had been ordered by the state government, which filed a first information report on May 31. Initially, the police said 16 girls had been sexually assaulted. Later, the figure was revised to 34 on the basis of the medical report.

The Bihar Police registered a First Information Report against former social welfare minister of the state, Manju Verma, and her husband on August 19 after 50 cartridges were found in her in-law’s home during a search operation in connection with the case. Verma stepped down from her post on August 8 after allegations surfaced about her husband Chandeshwar Verma’s links to Brajesh Thakur, who used to run the shelter.