The police in Manipur have filed a sedition case against political activist Erendro Leichombam, the chief of Imphal East police station Jogeshchandra Haobijam confirmed to Scroll.in on Tuesday.
The police have also invoked Section 153 (causing provocation to riot) and 505 (public mischief) of the Indian Penal Code against Leichombam. The activist is the convenor of a Manipur-based political party, People’s Resurgence and Justice Alliance, which he had co-founded with Irom Sharmila in 2016 after she ended her 16-year-old fast for the removal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act from Manipur. He had contested the 2016 Manipur Assembly elections, but lost.
The police have refused to divulge more details about the case, but Leichombam said when officers visited his home in Imphal on July 26, presumably to arrest him, his family members were told that the charges stemmed from his Facebook posts. Leichombam’s family claimed that the police referred to a particular picture he had posted on July 24 about Sanajaoba Leishemba, a newly-elected Rajya Sabha MP and the titular king of the state.
In the image, Leishemba, who was elected on a BJP ticket, is seen bowing down with his hands folded in front of Union Home Minister Amit Shah. The picture has been captioned “Minai macha”, which roughly translates to “son of a servant”.
Leichombam, who has a postgraduate degree in economic policy from Harvard University, is a vocal critic of the current BJP dispensation in Manipur. He was arrested in 2018 for posting a video on Facebook that the police said amounted to “promoting enmity between different groups and criminal intimidation”. “I have been targeted because I am a long-time critic of the BJP government in Manipur,” Leichombam said.
The political activist said he was scared of going back to Manipur because he feared the state government would file more serious charges against him even if the court were to dismiss the sedition case. “This is what the government did to a journalist after the court said sedition charges don’t hold,” he said, referring to Kishorechandra Wangkhem, a Manipuri journalist who was charged under the National Security Act in 2018 after he posted a Facebook video critical of Biren Singh and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In addition to Wangkhem, several Manipuri civil society activists and political activists have been detained or arrested over the last couple of months for allegedly criticising the BJP government on social media.
In a Facebook post on Tuesday evening, the political activist posted: “I have been charged with sedition by the government for exercising my freedom of speech. To protect Kangleipak from a forceful assimilation is a duty. I will not stop writing. You can’t gag all your critics. Some of us still love our homeland. You can imprison my body, but how will you imprison my mind?”
On July 14, Leichombam had also written a post on the “serious allegations against the chief minister of Manipur” levelled by Thounaojam Brinda, a police officer from the state. In an affidavit to the court, Thounaojam has alleged that Chief Minister Biren Singh had tried to foil a police investigation against a fellow party member accused of smuggling drugs.