A journalist in Manipur has been in detention under the stringent National Security Act since November 27. According to the detention order, seen by Scroll.in, journalist Kishorechandra Wangkhem has been incarcerated “with a view to prevent him from acting in any matter prejudicial to the security of the state and to the maintenance of public order”. The order has been signed by the district magistrate of Imphal (West).
The draconian National Security Act allows the administration to detain people merely under the presumption that they could do something detrimental to national security. It also denies them access to a lawyer or a hearing before a court of law.
Days before his detention, Wangkhem was arrested by the Manipur police on November 21 for posting a video critical of Chief Minister N Biren Singh and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Facebook.
A Facebook post
In the video, Wangkhem had lashed out at Singh, calling him a “puppet of Modi and Hindutva” for organising a function in Manipur on November 19 to mark the birth anniversary of Lakshmibai, the Rani of Jhansi, who he claimed had “nothing to do with Manipur”. “Do you have any sense of Manipuri nationalism?” he asked in the video. “If you don’t, don’t talk rubbish.” On several occasions during the video, Wangkhem used expletives for Modi and Singh. “Come and arrest me,” he said.
The police had then charged him for sedition, inciting hatred and defamation. But on November 25, the chief judicial magistrate of Imphal (West) district dismissed the charges of sedition and granted Wangkhem bail for the other charges. “In giving the speech, the accused person transgressed beyond decent human conduct but it cannot be termed seditious,” the court noted. “The government, especially its functionary like prime minister cannot be so sensitive as to take offence upon expression of opinions by its citizen, which may be given very nicely by using proper words or indecently by using some vulgar terms.”
‘Alternative preventive measure’
Yet, the district commissioner’s order states that being out on bail would mean that Wangkhem would “resume activities which are prejudicial to the security of the state and the maintenance of public order as he is a habitual offender”. To prevent that, the order affirms, there was a need for an “alternative preventive measure”. This was detention under the National Security Act.
Wangkhem had previously been arrested in August for Facebook posts he wrote that were critical of the BJP. In one of the posts, he had reportedly expanded the BJP acronym as “Budhu Joker Party”. Budhu is a Hindi word that translates into “fool” or “dimwit”.
The district commissioner, Naorem Praveen Singh, refused to give more details of Wangkhem’s latest detention. “As per the NSA [National Security Act], we get five days of time to give the grounds for detention,” he said “We are in the process of doing that, we cannot make anything public before that.”
The state’s chief secretary, J Suresh Babu, claimed ignorance about the development. Imphal (West) superintendent of police, Jogeshchandra Haobijam, declined to comment.
Silence among journalists
On Friday, a protest was organised in Imphal to demand Wangkhem’s release. However, the state’s journalistic community largely stayed away from it. Brozendra Ningomba, president of the All Manipur Working Journalists’ Union, said it had passed a resolution recently not to support anyone – journalist or not – if they were arrested for posting “nonsensical personal opinion” on social media. Ningomba is editor at ISTV network, where Wangkhem was employed till recently as a sub-editor and anchor. He had apparently quit his job days ahead of posting the Facebook video.
A major section of the press in Imphal has also shied away from reporting on the case. “The government has somehow managed to manipulate the entire journalistic fraternity and the local media is not saying anything on this case,” said Akhu Chingangbam, musician and rights activist who was part of the protest on Friday morning. “That is how much they are dictating everything in town.”
Pradip Phanjoubam, editor of the Imphal Free Press, perhaps the only paper to have reported about the detention, also lamented the lack of support from journalists in Manipur for Wangkhem. “It is unfortunate that almost no one seems to be even reporting on the case,” he said.
The Congress’s Khumukcham Joykisan also accused the BJP government of trying to “shut everyone’s mouths”. “Even the journalists are too scared to say anything,” he said.
Wangkhem’s wife, Ranjita Elnanbam, concurred. “In a democratic country, can’t we give opinions now?” she asked. “It seems this government does not believe in democracy and is trying to just keep our mouth shut.”
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