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Manipuri activist, jailed over FB post, freed after SC order

Officials in Imphal said that Leichombam, 40, was released from the Central Jail on Monday afternoon

Monday July 19, 2021 8:07 PM, IANS

Erendro Leichombam

Imphal/New Delhi: Authorities in Manipur on Monday released activist Erendro Leichombam on the Supreme Court's orders, two months after he was detained under the National Security Act (NSA) for his Facebook post criticising BJP leaders for advocating cow dung and cow urine as cure for Covid-19.

Officials in Imphal said that Leichombam, 40, was released from the Central Jail on Monday afternoon as a division bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and M.R. Shah earlier today ordered his release on or before 5:00 p.m.

Ruling that a person cannot be kept in jail even for a day for such an act, Justice Chandrachud said:

"He cannot be kept in jail even for a day. We will order his release today."

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, for his part, requested the bench to list the matter for Tuesday. However, the bench did not budge and said the court will grant interim relief now itself.

The bench said:

"We are of the view that continued detention of the petitioner would be a violation of right to life and personal liberty under Article 21. We accordingly direct that the petitioner shall be released forthwith subject to interim directions of this court and subject to further orders."

The court directed its Registrar (Judicial) to communicate the order to Manipur Central Jail for release of the activist before 5 p.m. on Monday. The counsel for the petitioner submitted that he would press for compensation at the next hearing.

"Innocuous Piece of Speech"

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 against 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 Wangkhem Wangthpi, 41, (alias Kishorchandra) were initially arrested by the police on May 13 for their Facebook post on the complaint of BJP leaders.

On May 17, the day duo were granted bail by the Imphal Chief Judicial Magistrate, the Imphal West District Magistrate Th. Kirankumar, detained them under the stringent NSA.

The plea in the Supreme Court also said that Leichombam has already spent 45 days in custody for an "innocuous piece of speech".

"Offensive Comments"

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

Leichombam and Wangthpi 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".

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