Imphal court summons Kuki leaders over media interview on Manipur violence

Complaint says falsehoods being spread to promote enmity between two groups; tribal leaders had said that radical Meitei groups had the backing of the State government

June 30, 2023 10:49 pm | Updated 10:49 pm IST - New Delhi

A local court in Imphal on Friday took cognisance of charges filed against two Kuki-Zomi leaders, accusing them of promoting enmity between two groups. The two leaders had commented on the ongoing ethnic violence in Manipur between the Meitei and Kuki groups in an interview to a news website.

The court proceeded to issue summons to the accused persons, returnable by the next date of hearing on July 24.

The action was initiated on a private criminal complaint filed by Lourembam Cha Somerendro, who claimed to be a social worker. Mr. Somerendro alleged that Mary Grace Zou, the convener of the Kuki Women’s Forum of Delhi NCR, and Wilson L. Hangsing, the co-founder of the Kuki People’s Alliance, had purportedly spread falsehoods about the ongoing violence in the State in a media interview.

The court of the Chief Judicial Magistrate in Imphal East District on Friday said that it had recorded the statement of the complainant and a witness under Section 200 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Based on this, the court of CJM Ashem Tarunakumari Devi said, “this court finds that prima facie materials exist for the commission of the offence u/s 153A, 200, 505(1), and 120B IPC.” These Sections are related to promoting enmity between two groups.

The complainant alleged that Ms. Zou and Mr. Hangshing had “falsely” claimed that the violence was started by Meitei mobs and that this amounted to spreading communal hatred and discontent between the Meiteis and the Kuki people. In the interview, Ms. Zou and Mr. Hangshing had alleged that the violence was being fuelled by radical Meitei outfits like the Arambai Tenggol and the Meetei Leepun — both of which allegedly have backing from the State government. They had gone on to allege that the violence amounted to State-sanctioned “ethnic cleansing” of the Kuki-Zomi people.

In the witness statement recorded on June 30, the witness alleged, “The accused no. 1 (Ms. Zou) also gave defaming statement in the above interview that some Meitei cultural organisations of Manipur are the organisations instigating the present violence, which also amounts to commission of deliberate and malicious acts intending to outrage the Meitei community.”

The witness went on to claim that both Ms. Zou and Mr. Hangshing had “falsely” accused Chief Minister Biren Singh and the State’s law enforcement agencies of being complicit in the violence and that this had “inflicted doubt on the professional integrity” of the Manipur Police.

After Friday’s hearing, counsel for the complainant, advocate R.K. Milan, told The Hindu, “The court has taken cognisance of the charges and issued summons. We will serve the summons to the accused as directed.”

In addition to this, the court entertained an application from the complainant praying that the phones of both the accused be seized and that their call detail records be preserved. The court said, “The same shall be considered as and when necessary or desirable for the purpose of inquiry/trial”.

Ms. Zou told The Hindu that she would not like to comment on the case unless she is either apprised of the court order or is served the summons. Mr. Hangshing did not respond to calls seeking comment.

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