Second Manipur activist, held for FB post, freed after HC order

Manipur activist Wangkhemcha Wangthoi was released from the central jail following a High Court order on Friday, five days after his associate Erendro Leichombam was freed on the Supreme Court’s orders. The duo had been detained under the National Security Act for their Facebook posts criticising BJP leaders for advocating cow dung and cow urine as cure for Covid-19.

Officials said that the division bench of the Manipur High Court comprising Chief Justice Sanjay Kumar and Justice K.H. Nobin Singh directed the release of Wangkhemcha Wangthoi, alias Kishorchandra, 41, from Manipur Central Jail at Sajiwa as he was jailed under the NSA for the Facebook posts.

The High Court passed the order on a petition moved by Wangthoi’s wife Elangbam Ranjita. It had asked the authorities to release him before 5 p.m. on Friday but the central jail officials released him before the stipulated time.

The High Court is also likely to consider a plea for awarding compensation to Wangthoi, who is also a journalist.

The court said: “We find that the detention of the petitioner’s husband under the National Security Act, 1980, stems from a Facebook post, allegedly put up by him in Manipuri language, sardonically stating to the effect that cow dung and cow urine were not the medicine for treating coronavirus.”

“A similar Facebook post was put up by one Erendro Leichombam at around the same time and he was also subjected to similar detention under the provisions of the NSA on May 17.”

“We find no distinction or difference between the case of the petitioner’s husband and that of Erendro Leichombam. Both of them put up similar Facebook posts, critical of the utility of cow dung and cow urine in treating coronavirus.

“As they stand identically situated, we are of the opinion that the continued incarceration of the petitioner’s husband would be as much a violation of Article 21 of the Constitution, as it was in the case of Erendro Leichombam,” the court observed in its 3-page order.

Following the apex court order Leichombam, 40, was released from the Manipur Central Jail on July 19 as a division bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and M.R. Shah had on that date ordered his release.

Ruling that a person cannot be kept in jail even for a day for such an act, Justice Chandrachud had said: “He cannot be kept in jail even for a day. We will order his release today.”

The Supreme Court order came as it heard a petition filed by Leichombam’s father, L. Raghumani Singh, stating that the detention of the activist is a reprisal for his criticism of BJP leaders.

“Erendro, a Manipuri political activist, has been preventively detained solely to punish him for his criticism of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders for advocating cow dung and cow urine as cures for Covid,” said the petition.

Leichombam and Wangthoi were initially arrested by the police on May 13 for their Facebook post on the complaint of BJP leaders.

On May 17, the duo was granted bail by the Imphal Chief Judicial Magistrate.

A complaint was filed against Leichombam and Wangthoi by Manipur state BJP Vice President Usham Deban and General Secretary P. Premananda Meetei, accusing both the activists of posting “offensive comments” referring to the death of state BJP President Saikhom Tikendra Singh, who succumbed to Covid-19 in a hospital in Imphal on May 13.

Leichombam and Wangthoi had been arrested twice earlier on charges of sedition and for making various posts on social media against the government.

Leichombam, educated abroad, is the founder of the People’s Resurgence and Justice Alliance, a political party whose candidate in the 2017 Manipur elections included rights activist Irom Sharmila. He had also unsuccessfully contested the Assembly polls in 2017.

Rights activists and various Manipur-based organisations and elsewhere in the country had then criticised the government for “overreacting”.