An independent journalist in Manipur was barred from entering the state Assembly to report on proceedings despite carrying valid permissions, after she was served a breach of privilege notice.

The Manipur Legislative Assembly has charged Grace Jajo with breach of privilege for sharing a news report on Facebook. The article was about how the news website, The Frontier Manipur, had been charged with breach of privilege and contempt for reproducing statements made by Chief Minister N Biren Singh on the floor of the House. Jajo had shared the article on February 20, with a caption which said, “Drama from the assembly”.

Following the Facebook post, Jajo was physically prevented from entering the Assembly. The incident took place on February 22, when she went to cover the proceedings. She entered the female frisking entry room, where a security officer asked her to show her identity card, The Frontier Manipur reported. But when she produced her entry pass and press card, the head of security, identified as E Tomba, forcibly confiscated it, and refused her entry.

Jajo protested and demanded to see the official order that sanctioned the move. She was told it was with a joint secretary named Raju and she could collect it from him. But despite attempts to reach him, Raju was unavailable at that moment and she was forced to leave.

The journalist said that she was initially offered a chair to sit, but was later asked to sit next to the two heavily armed security guards near the gate. Grace said that she left the frisking entry room around 12.20 pm, and waited outside the room for the order.

“Two minutes after I sat down two lady security personnel came and told me that the senior officer wants me to wait outside the gate”, Jajo said. “Simultaneously a police team led by a female sub-inspector (SI) drove up to the gate from the outside and shouted at me, from outside the gate, to come out of the complex.”

Jajo alleged that the security personnel “tried to shove her physically”. “Outside, I was still treated like a thief by the police woman, screaming at me and touching me,” she added. “I requested her not to touch me but to no avail.”

Charged with ‘contempt of House’

The Manipur Assembly on Tuesday issued a statement, confirming that Jajo was barred from entering the State Assembly and covering the Budget Session because of her Facebook post, which it said amounts to “breach of privilege and contempt of the House”, The Sangai Express reported.

“Her act amounts to demeaning the process taken up by the Assembly Secretariat functioning according to the Rules of Procedure of Conduct of Business in Manipur Legislative Assembly,” the government said. “Taking serious note of her intentionally trying to malign the official procedure which amounts to breach of privilege and contempt of the House, the matter was referred to the Committee of Privileges and Ethics, Manipur Legislative Assembly. “

Media body condemns action

The Foundation for Media Professionals has condemned the action against Jajo, and demanded that the authorities revoke the breach of privilege notice against the journalist.

“If use of the word “drama”, which has multiple meanings in the dictionary, constitutes sufficient grounds for invoking breach of privilege then it is unlikely that a free press or democracy can survive such hypersensitivity,” the foundation said in a statement.

The media body added that it appears that factual reporting on Assembly proceedings, “has somehow been construed as a breach of privilege, and sharing the explanation submitted to the Assembly has been viewed as a further breach”.

“The Foundation for Media Professionals calls upon media organisations everywhere to consider the issues raised by this case, and the series of sedition cases for social media posts that preceded it in Manipur and elsewhere,” the media body added.

The foundation further cited the recent order by a Delhi court while granting bail to climate activist Disha Ravi in a farmer protests document case. “The offence of sedition cannot be invoked to minister to the wounded vanity of governments,” the media body quoted the order as saying. “We hope that the offence of breach of privilege will not be invoked for similar reasons.”