In a rare occurrence, bail has been given to five men in Manipur despite them being charged under sections of the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. The bail order comes after the state’s capital, Imphal, saw nearly a week of protests and shutdowns over their arrest.
Granting conditional bail to the men, one of whom is a former cadre of the banned insurgent outfit People’s Liberation Army of Manipur, the special National Investigation Agency (NIA) court observed that the investigating officer could not provide strong prima facie evidence of the accused being involved in terror activities. The court also took note of the protests being held for the unconditional release of the accused.
The five men were arrested on September 16 after they were found driving an SUV in a suspicious manner. A check revealed that they were wearing the camouflage uniforms used by security forces and had several sophisticated weapons on them, including INSAS, SLR and .303 rifles. Several rounds of ammunition were also recovered from the car.
Police Station Break-In
Since the ethnic violence broke out between the Meitei and Kuki-Zo communities in Manipur in May, there have been several instances of armed people donning the uniforms of security forces and attacking villages or firing at personnel. On September 8, a Kuki-Zo village near Pallel in Kakching district was attacked by at least six men in uniform.
Protests began soon after the arrest of the five men on Saturday, and a collective of elderly tribal women, called Meira Paibis, had attempted to break into the police station where they were being held. Several security personnel sustained injuries and the police had to fire tear gas shells to disperse the protesters.
After an unofficial lockdown till Monday, a 48-hour lockdown was imposed by protesters in the Manipur valley on Tuesday. Protests turned violent in some parts of the valley, including Imphal, again on Thursday. Batons and tear gas shells were used and over a dozen people were left injured.
In the order, which was issued on Friday, the judge said, “The special prosecutor for the state also submitted admitting the present law and order situation between two communities and also submitted that the 5 accused persons are the village volunteers and they are doing their certain activities for the protection and safety of the villagers at large in Manipur (based on the statements recorded by the police during the course of investigation) (sic)”.
“It is also admitted that a large number of people, including a large number of womenfolk are also demanding unconditional release of the 5 accused persons by declaring 48 hours general strike and even thronged into the police stations demanding the same on the ground that they are doing certain activities for the safety and protection of the villagers at large,” the order read.
The judge said the prosecution has not been able to provide strong prima facie evidence of the accused being involved in terror activities. “The prosecution story does not show prima facie that all the accused are the members of the terrorist organisations except to say that accused No.1 was a one-time member of the banned organisation of PLA in the year 1996 and later joined the Kangleipak Communist Party,” the court said.
“The police paper also does not disclose any specific terrorist acts done by the accused persons except mentioning of being member of the terrorist organisation against the accused person No.1 only (sic),” the order added.
Over 180 people have lost their lives and more than 3,000 have been injured in the violence in Manipur, which began on May 3, when a ‘Tribal Solidarity March’ was organised in the hill districts to protest against the Meitei community’s demand for Scheduled Tribe status.
More than 60,000 people remain displaced and property worth thousands of crores has been destroyed.