India's Manipur charges four journalists over report into ethnic violence

A burnt structure is pictured at Torbung village in Churachandpur district

GUWAHATI, India (Reuters) -Indian police in Manipur state have filed criminal charges against four journalists, accusing them of misrepresenting facts in a report about the violent clashes between ethnic groups earlier this year.

The four were senior journalists working on a report, which was released this month, for the Editors Guild of India that was seeking to assess how coverage of violence in the state was being conducted.

The report stated that there "are clear indications that the leadership of the state became partisan during the conflict".

Manipur's chief minister N. Biren Singh on Monday accused the journalists of trying to "provoke clashes" with the coverage.

In a statement, the Editors Guild urged the government to drop the cases, saying it was shocked by the chief minister's comments.

The journalists - Seema Mustafa, who is president of the Editors Guild, Seema Guha, Bharat Bhushan and Sanjay Kapoor - could not be immediately reached for comment.

The New Delhi-based Press Club of India also demanded that the charges be withdrawn. "This is a strong arm tactic by the state government which amounts to intimidation of the apex media body of the country," it said.

At least 180 people have been killed in Manipur after deadly ethnic violence broke out in May between members of the majority Meitei ethnic group and minority Kuki community over the sharing of economic benefits and quotas.

An internet shutdown ordered in the state governed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) contributed to biased reporting by local media aligned with warring ethnic groups, the journalists' report said. Some local media groups have rejected the allegation.

India, which will host the G20 leaders' summit on Sept. 9-10, has slid 11 places to rank 161st in the World Press Freedom Index, compiled by non-profit group Reporters Without Borders. The government says India has a vibrant free press.

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights this week raised concern about reports of human rights violations in Manipur.

(Reporting by Blassy Boben and Zarir Hussain; Editing by Edwina Gibbs and Mike Harrison)