New Delhi: The Manipur Police is yet to complete probe and file chargesheet in four out of five cases that had been cited as the basis for invoking the stringent National Security Act against political activist Leichombam Erendro, according to documents filed with the Supreme Court.
The Manipur government revoked the NSA order against Erendro Monday after he was released from the Manipur Central Jail, following the top court’s intervention.
Erendro was arrested on 13 May for a Facebook post that said “cow dung or cow urine will not cure covid”. This was the fifth and latest case against him, after which the NSA was imposed.
However, the other four cases — first registered in 2018, second in 2019, third in 2020 and the fourth in February this year — are still under probe, and therefore there are no charge sheets filed yet, according to documents annexed to a petition filed by Erendro’s father in the Supreme Court.
The plea sought to set aside the NSA detention order, and also a compensation for Erendro for the alleged “illegal detention”.
The documents further revealed that the operative portion of the detention order under NSA, issued by the Imphal district magistrate, was word-to-word copy of a paragraph from a rejected police remand application that was filed before a trial court in Imphal to oppose Erendro’s bail plea in the fifth case.
The trial court had turned down the police’s plea to remand Enrendro in judicial custody on 17 May and had ordered his release. However, despite being on bail in the other four cases, Erendro continued to be in jail as the NSA detention order was issued against him on 17 May itself.
The activist was finally released Monday.
How SC found the matter ‘very serious’
Holding a hearing on his petition, a Supreme Court-bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud Monday opined that Erendro’s continued detention would be a violation of his right to life and personal liberty, and gave the state time till 5 pm to set him free.
The Manipur government revoked the NSA order against Erendro the same evening.
Informing the court about the revocation the following day, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta implored the bench to “put the matter to rest”. He said the state had not opposed Erendro’s release and conformed to the court order immediately.
But the bench accepted Erendro’s request to issue notice to the state on his prayer for compensation. His advocate Shadan Farasat pointed to the “frivolous grounds” on which the detention order was issued.
The bench too felt that the “serious matter” merited a further hearing as “someone had lost his liberty since May”. The court gave two weeks to the state to submit its response.
No connection with security of state
The National Security Act empowers the Centre or a state to detain a person as preventive measure, if he or she is found to be prejudicial to national security. The government can also detain them from disrupting public order or for maintenance of supplies and service essential to the community.
The maximum period for detention is 12 months, but this term can be extended if the government comes across fresh evidence.
In his petition before the Supreme Court, Erendro’s father claimed the impugned grounds of his detention were entirely irrelevant because, by their nature, the said activities bore no nexus with “security of the state” or “public order”.
Moreover, the detaining authority did not provide any independent or additional reasoning for issuing the order, but simply copied a paragraph from the police remand application to justify the detention, the plea said.
Legal experts ThePrint spoke to said NSA can be invoked if multiple actions by an individual have a direct bearing to “public law and order”.
Cases against the activist
A post-graduate from Harvard University, Erendro was first booked on 25 May 2018 for allegedly uploading a video of “some Bihari youngsters threatening Manipuris”.
The second case was filed on 27 September 2019, after a video showing Erendro protesting against the government by way of throwing eggs on the posters of the prime minister, the Manipur chief minister and some officials of Manipur University.
Another Facebook post landed him in trouble when the police slapped sedition charges against him on 25 July 2020. In the “derogatory post”, Erendro had allegedly mentioned the word “slave” in the caption of a photograph that showed Rajya Sabha MP Sanajaoba Leishemba, the titular king of Uttra Sanglen, shaking hands with Union minister Amit Shah.
This FIR was lodged following a complaint to the police by the secretary general of Uttra Sanglen, which claimed Erendro’s post was with a view to solicit hatred and incite riots against the MP.
In the fourth case, Erendro was booked for allegedly misappropriating the complainant’s property. According to the FIR, Erendro had received grants to commence a training centre for skill development in Imphal. However, he shut down the centre due to pandemic and at the same time refused to return the equipment he had purchased with the grants provided to him by the complainant, a voluntary organisation working in the skill development space.
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