Delhi: The Human Rights Law Network (HRLN), along with Manipur Students' Association, Delhi (MSAD), organised a press conference on January 29, condemning the attack on free speech and journalism, and standing in solidarity with journalist Keshorchandra Wangkhem – a journalist in Manipur, who was arrested under National Security Act (NSA) on November 27, 2018, for a video he uploaded on social media.
The government’s decision to detain the journalist under NSA came as a shock to the journalist and human rights community because on November 26, a day before his detention under NSA, a lower court hearing a charge of sedition brought against Wangkhem for the same video had released him on bail, stating that what was said in the video was not seditious in nature.
Less than 24 hours after he was released on court’s order, Kishorchandra was picked up by the local police, and was later charged under the NSA.
The key speakers at the press conference were Justice Markandey Katju, former chairman of Press Council of India; Colin Gonsalves, senior advocate in the Supreme Court of India and founder of HRLN; Ranjita Elangbam, wife of Keshorchandra Wangkhem; Shreeji Bhavsar, advocate, Supreme Court of India; Sabina Inderjit, general secretary, Indian Journalists’ Union (IJU); Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty, deputy editor at The Wire; and Thokchom Veewon, president, Manipur Students’ Association, Delhi.
While condemning the arrest of the journalists under NSA, Justice Katju said that Manipur will show the way to the entire country which seems to be reeling under a dictatorship of sorts. “If it’s a democracy, (then) people have the right to criticise the government. People are supreme in a democracy, and a government is merely a servant of the people.”
He further added that the dictator-like leaders such as Manipur’s Chief Minister N Biren Singh should be socially boycotted by Manipuris, and so should be the people who support him. He also went on to say that today, barring a few, leaders of this nation are only trying to provoke people on communal, religious and social grounds to make political gains.
Elangbam said that after her husband’s arrest under NSA, the Manipuri community has been boycotting them. “When I went to meet my husband in the jail in Imphal, I was trying to give my husband a pen and a book, and even for that the authorities humiliated me. There are all sorts of stories made up about my husband that he has ties with the underground outfits, or that he’s a womaniser. All this is propaganda to stop people from supporting us, and stopping me from fighting for justice. I come from a middle class family, and I need support to fight for my husband’s release.”
The draconian NSA was condemned by all the panellists, and everyone seemed to agree on the fact that NSA was being abused to shut down criticism coming towards the government.
Shreeji Bhavsar, Kishorchandra’s lawyer maintained that laws like sedition and NSA should be done away with, as they are being widely misused in recent times.
Gonsalves said that for sedition, merely expression of intent isn’t just a requisite while as jarring as the comments made might be. For something to be accountable as sedition, it must be remembered that it is supposed to be acted upon in the same manner.
While Sabina Inderjeet did not agree with the language used by the Manipuri Journalist, she condemned the act of slapping NSA on him. She also said that in her 30 years of career as a journalist, the last decade has seen the most number of attacks on freedom of press, and this is why it is imperative to fight for Kishorchandra’s release.
The matter is set to be heard in Manipur High Court on February 1.