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Manipur violence: Supreme Court extends interim protection from arrest to activist for giving a speech

Henminlun, alias Loon Gangte, the founder and President of the Delhi Network of Positive People, a network of people living with HIV/AIDS, is accused of disturbing public order and promoting enmity between groups. The Bench led by the Chief Justice of India Dr D.Y. Chandrachud also passed directions over concerns about engaging lawyers in the Manipur High Court. 

TODAY, the Supreme Court extended interim protection from arrest by the Manipur police to Henminlun, alias Loon Gangte, the founder and President of the Delhi Network of Positive People, a network of people living with HIV/AIDS.

A three-judge Bench led by the Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dr D.Y. Chandrachud and also comprising Justices J.B. Pardiwala and Manoj Misra was hearing a writ petition seeking quashing of first information reports (FIRs) filed against Gangte, for giving a speech that ‘disturbed public order and promoted enmity between groups’.

According to the petition, an FIR, dated August 8, was filed against him for giving a speech on the topic of ‘Separate Administration: The Only Solution’, at an event organised by the Kuki-Zo Women’s Forum on July 28.

Gangte is charged with offences under Sections 153-A, 505(1)(b), 505(2), and 34 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

During the previous hearing, on September 12, the Supreme Court had granted interim protection to Gangte till September 22, that is, today.

On September 12, senior advocate Anand Grover, appearing for the petitioner, had submitted the difficulty of the petitioners in approaching the Manipur High Court to seek relief.

He had averred that it would be particularly difficult to engage a lawyer to represent Gangte since he belongs to the minority community.

Grover had reminded the court of the threats to the lawyers representing Dr Kham Khan Suan Hausing, a professor of political science at the University of Hyderabad, in Manipur High Court.

The three advocates engaged by Grover to represent Dr Hausing in the Manipur High Court withdrew from the case due to alleged threats.

Grover had informed the court that the house of one of the lawyers was vandalised by a mob and that two lawyers had to flee Manipur and take relief in Central Reserve Police Force camps.

Consequently, the Bench had directed Grover to file an affidavit on the difficulty in engaging a lawyer who could appear on Grover’s behalf in the Manipur High Court.

Today, in reply to Grover’s affidavit, the Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta reiterated that the Manipur High Court is functioning and that Grover can appear in the high court virtually.

To this, Grover clarified that he is not contesting the functioning of the high court. Grover emphasised that his grievance is that Imphal-based lawyers from the majority community are not willing to represent parties from the minority community.

On the CJI’s remark that the high court’s legal services committee can provide a lawyer, Grover replied that the high court had also appointed a legal services lawyer in Dr Hausing’s case. However, the counsel charged high fees, Grover reasoned.

The Bench directed the petitioner to seek remedy before the high court under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. The Bench also directed the high court to permit the counsel for the petitioner to appear through a video conferencing platform.

In case the petitioner wishes to be represented by a legal aid counsel, the high court’s legal services committee was directed to ensure that such counsel is provided to the accused free of cost.

Grover further contended that though it might be possible for him to appear before the Manipur High Court virtually, sufficient infrastructure to submit documentation online is missing right now.

It took us three weeks to deliver hard copies [of files to the Manipur High Court],” Grover claimed.

Grover strongly contested the claim of the Advocate General of the high court, appearing on behalf of the state government, that the e-filing facility is functioning in the Manipur High Court.

The Bench directed the Advocate General to ensure that the e-filing facility will be made available in the Manipur High Court.

Further, in case of any continued difficulty in accessing the facility, the petitioner was directed to bring the issue to the notice of the registrar general of the high court.

In order to enable the petitioner to address his remedies before the high court, on Grover’s request, the Bench directed that no coercive steps should be taken against the petitioner for a period of three weeks.

The Leaflet