Free Manipur journalist now!

Free Manipur journalist now!

Kishorechandra Wangkhem. credit: Facebook

It is more than a fortnight since the detention of journalist Kishorechandra Wangkhem under the National Security Act (NSA) for criticising Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh. It is a shocking case of State excess. Such draconian action has not been taken against journalists in the country, except during the Emergency when fundamental rights had been suspended. Wangkhem had criticised the chief minister on social media and had described him as a puppet of Hindutva and the Narendra Modi-led government at the Centre. Manipur has a BJP-led government. Wangkhem had also criticised the state government for commemorating Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi and for comparing her battles against the British forces with Manipur’s freedom struggle. The language that he used was not polite, but he, as any other citizen of the country, has the right to criticise the government and its decisions and actions.

Wangkhem was first arrested under provisions of the IPC relating to sedition. But he was released on bail by a magistrate, who remarked that he was only expressing an opinion about the public conduct of a public figure. The police then rearrested him under the more stringent NSA, for which there is no remedy or relief. The detention is for one year. An NSA detenu has no rights, cannot go to court and engage a lawyer and there is no trial. It is difficult to imagine that even in these times, when the normal rights of citizens are under attack, a person’s mere opinions would invite charges of sedition. The NSA empowers the central and state governments to detain a person to prevent him or her from acting in any manner prejudicial to the security of India, relations with foreign countries and the maintenance of public order. Wangkhem’s views could not have attracted any of these charges. 

The Supreme Court has made it clear that only incitement to violence against the State could provide ground for action under the sedition law. The court has also said that the State has to show that some public disorder has actually happened. Since none of these conditions have been satisfied, the detention of the journalist can only be considered arbitrary and illegal. It is a violation of all basic rights, including freedom of expression. The chief minister cannot consider himself above criticism, and criticism of the government is not sedition. The action against Wangkhem is another instance of treating all criticism and questioning as anti-national acts. It is an authoritarian action most incompatible with democracy and the rule of law.

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