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Defending Freedom of Speech and Expression

Date : 21/01/2019

Meeting on Legal Defense of the Defenders

Journalist, lawyers and human rights activist came together in a show of strength and solidarity to demand the immediate release of journalist, Kishorchandra Wangkhemcha, incarcerated under the National Security Act (NSA) and dropping of all charges against him.

“Free speech in India came under attack on all fronts in 2018. The unreasonable and illegal restrictions on the right to freedom of expression in India came from multiple quarters: the state, the centre and respective state governments that use legal mechanisms like defamation cases and even the judiciary with at least nine free-speech related contempt cases. The grim picture immediately preceding an election year has raised apprehensions that there will be further state regulation and control of dissent, even corporate houses and political groups seek to clamp down on news with SLAPP suits and defamation. Therefore, the freedom of expression is in peril,” said director of Human Rights Alert, Babloo Loitongbam while addressing a press meet held at Manipur press club organised by Human Rights Law Network (HRLN ) today.

He further said that in detaining Kishorchandra under the draconian law NSA for one year immediately after he was released on bail by the chief judicial magistrate, the government is not only violating the fundamental rights to freedom of expression and undermining rule of law.

It is also instilling fear in young Manipuri’s speaking against what they perceive as a systematic and diabolic push to distort their history and ultimately obliterate their distinct identity, he said. Calling attention on the video clip, he said that using slang words in anger should not be taken in its literary meaning. While stating that detaining under NSA is arbitrary detention, he further said that Human Rights Alert stands for Kishorchandra, state government detaining Kishorchandra is against International law.

Advocate, Supreme Court of India, Shreeji Bhavsar said that the detention of Kishorchandra Wangkhem by the state government under the draconian colonial-type law, National Security Act 1980, which has widely been used by all government for political persecution of their critics and opponents is a violation of the fundamental rights to freedom of expression envisaged under Article 19(1)(a) under constitution of India, he informed.

“Kishorchandra is neither under police custody nor under judicial custody; it is a preventive detention. He has not committed any crime. His detention is acted out of apprehension by the state government that his act is prejudicial to law and order of State. Kishorchandra had already bail out by court but the state government arrested him under NSA out of mere apprehension. It means that the state government violate and does not respect the orders of court,” he stated.

He further said that on January 29, there will be a conference held at Press Club of India, Delhi to express support and solidarity to Kishochandra.

Laxmi Murthy, a journalist based in Bangalore stated that the unreasonable and illegal restrictions of right to freedom of expression in India were put mostly against journalists from small towns.

In 2018, seven journalists were killed, at least 27 incidents of attacks have taken place against 33 journalists, she informed. There have been no convictions in past cases of killings of journalist and the total impunity continues, she stated.

Tolerance of dissenting views and opinions, however unpalatable they might be, is a sign of a mature democracy, she said. Clamping down on rights to free speech and slapping of disproportional criminal charges does not bode well for the country in an election year, she added. As a journalist, and being a democratic citizen who keeps trust on democracy, the charges and misappropriation should be looked and questions must be raised, she said.

Draw attention on the suppression of freedom of speech, it is deliberate act to silence and to create fear psychosis to people, she said.

Ranjita Elangbam ,wife of Kishorechandra said that there is a huge stigma attached to them because of the case under NSA. She feels disturbed and isolated, there is also a fear psychosis and people are reluctant to come out openly in support of them, she stated.

“Journalists in India face a wide range of risks, from targeted killings to attacks, assaults and intimidation. Seven journalists have been killed in Manipur, and more disturbingly, the perpetrators have not been brought to justice. Intimidation and clamping down through over use and misuse of laws add to the atmosphere of fear and self censorship,” said, director of Human Rights Law Network Manipur, Rakesh Meihoubam.

Source: The Imphal Free Press

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