Content Regulation / Censorship, Violence Against Speakers / Impunity
Perozo and others v. Venezuela
Venezuela, Bolivarian Republic of
Closed Expands Expression
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In July 2021, the High Court of Manipur, India released journalist Kishorchandra Wangkhem who had been detained for the second time under National Security Act, 1980 (NSA) for a social media post critical of the government. On a petition filed by Wangkhem’s wife, the High Court held that his continued incarceration would violate the right to life and personal liberty guaranteed to him under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The journalist along with activist Erendro Leichombam, was arrested on May 13, 2021 for Facebook posts they had put up after the death of Manipur Bharatiya Janata Party chief Saikhom Tikendra Singh due to COVID-related complications. The post criticised the ruling party’s approach to COVID-19 and their support of cow dung and cow urine as a cure for COVID-19. Later on May 17, 2021, the Chief Magistrate, Imphal granted them bail, but before they could be released, the government once again invoked the NSA. On July 19, 2021, the Supreme Court of India ordered the release of activist Leichombam, in connection with his arrest under the NSA, saying that the “continued detention of the petitioner would be a violation of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution” [para. 4]. Subsequently, the Manipur High Court in Wangkhem’s case, ordered his release on the ground of parity with activist Leichombam’s case who put up similar Facebook posts and was released by the Supreme Court.
Kishorechandra Wangkhem, a journalist with the news website ‘The Frontier Manipur’, had after Manipur Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) chief Saikhom Tikendra Singh died of COVID, posted on Facebook, “Cow dung and cow urine didn’t work?”. Prior to this, the Manipur BJP chief had publicly stated that cow urine and cow dung cures COVID-19. A similar Facebook post was also put up by activist, Erendro Leichombam around the same time and he was similarly arrested on the grounds of Section 153A and 505(b)(2) of the Indian Penal Code for the promotion of enmity between groups and public disharmony and making statements that cause public mischief.
Wangkhem and Leichombam were arrested on May 13, 2021. Later, on May 17, 2021, both of them secured bail from the Chief Magistrate, Imphal. Before they could be released, they were served a detention order under the NSA. Thereafter, Leichombam secured an interim release after the Supreme Court of India had held that the “continued detention of the Petitioner would be a violation of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution (of India)” [para. 4] and the Government of Manipur revoked the detention order dated May 17, 2021 passed against Erendro Leichombam.
Wangkhem’s wife Ranjita wrote a letter to the Chief Justice of Manipur High Court seeking his release on the ground of parity with the case of activist Erendro Leichombam.
Justice Kumar delivered the judgment of the High Court of Manipur.
The main issue before the High Court was whether Wangkhem was to be released on bail in connection with his arrest under the NSA.
The Court passed an order directing Wangkhem’s release. In doing so, the Court did away with the procedural requirements of issuing notice to the State of Manipur to reply. This was done solely in view of the Supreme Court’s order granting bail to Leichombam, who was identically placed to Wangkhem.
The Court observed that there is no distinction or difference between Wangkhem’s case and that of Leichombam, since both of them put up similar Facebook posts, critical of the utility of cow dung and cow urine in treating COVID-19. The Court concluded that the continued incarceration of Wangkhem would be violative of Article 21 of the Constitution.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
The case upholds the rights of a journalist who was detained under national security law only for Facebook posts that were critical of a leader of the ruling party, BJP. Detaining Wangkhem under the NSA was excessive, and this was unequivocally recognized by the High Court. In cases of national security, state authorities and the legal systems often err on the side of caution. In this context, this decision sets a positive precedent.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
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