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Detention of Kishorechandra Wangkhem under NSA

Kishorechandra Wangkhem

The Foundation for Media Professionals condemns the detention under the National Security Act (NSA) of an Imphal journalist, Kishorechandra Wangkhem, following a post he made on Facebook on November 21 abusing Manipur’s chief minister N.Biren Singh and India’s prime minister Narendra Modi and their political party, the BJP. Wangkhem was subsequently arrested by the state police for sedition, inciting hatred, and defamation, according to a report in Scroll.in. He was released after a court dismissed the sedition charge and granted him bail for the other two charges. However, Wangkhem has now been sentenced to a year in jail, the maximum period permitted under the Act, by the order of the Governor of Manipur.

 

It is a sad reflection on the state of democracy and freedom of speech and expression in India that abusing the chief minister and prime minister on Facebook can lead to arrest under charges including sedition and subsequent re-arrest under the NSA after release by a court. A contrary political position however poorly or crassly expressed does not constitute a threat to the nation. Abusing political leaders is something that lakhs of people across India do on a daily basis. Politicians of all parties come in for abuse from supporters of rival parties. We do not commend this, but it is a part of our democracy. If it is criminalised to the extent of drawing sedition charges and provisions of the NSA, a very large number of supporters of various political parties in different states across India may find themselves behind bars, to the detriment of democracy in India.

 

The great irony in the Wangkhem case is that the current Manipur Chief Minister, N. Biren Singh, is himself a former journalist who was at one time charged with sedition.

 

Manipur has a complicated history of insurgency, state excess, and protests against such excess. There was the memorable naked protest by mothers of the Meira Paibi group in 2004 following the rape and murder of a young woman by soldiers of the Assam Rifles. There is an ongoing case in the Supreme Court against 1,528 fake encounter deaths in the state which sparked off numerous protests over the years. The Supreme Court has ordered FIRs in around 100 of the fake encounter cases, prompting hundreds of army personnel to seek protection from prosecution under provisions of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act – a petition dismissed by the court.

 

Facebook posts criticizing the current ruling dispensation are very minor events in comparison. The Foundation for Media Professionals calls on the Manipur government and the Government of India to deal in a manner worthy of the world’s largest democracy with social media rants, however abusive. State excess in the form of misuse of draconian laws to punish abuse of a particular politician and political party is reflective of the cult of personality that goes contrary to democratic norms and even to the slogan of “India First” that is championed by the government. 

 

India has ranked among the Top 5 most dangerous countries in the world for journalists in the latest ranking published by Reporters Without Borders. The country ranks 138th in the World Press Freedom Index, behind Afghanistan and Myanmar but one place ahead of Pakistan. Freedom of press and of speech and expression are under serious threat in the country at present.

 

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, President
Samrat Choudhury, North East Convenor

Facebook/Wangkhemcha Wangthoi