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Defending the Defenders: Manipur meeting

Date : 20/01/2019

The meeting was moderated by Ms. Chitra Yumnam, Advocate.

The meeting began with the welcome address and keynote from Rakesh Meihoubam, Director of HRLN Manipur. He explained the aims and objectives of the meeting, that is, to discuss the issues pertaining to the threats and attacks faced by journalists and activists for using their right to Freedom of Speech and Expression.

Introducing the legal defence of the defenders, journalists

Laxmi Murthy, senior journalist

Ms. Murthy started the session by introducing the issues faced by the journalists. At the outset, she talked about the issues faced by the journalists in general. She stated that journalists are being targeted by state machineries, in the form of intimidation, harassment, arrest etc., for using their right to freedom of speech and expression. Cases against the journalists are being filed in the court to silence them. Small journalist organizations are vulnerable and often targeted. The journalists are being attacked by taking advantage of Impunity. So far no positive precedent has been set when it comes to taking action for the threats and attacks made against the journalists. The journalists are being trolled for speaking out the truth. Intimidation and attacks against the journalists is a syndrome for silencing the journalist.

She stated that the issue faced by the journalists in the Northeast States, particularly Manipur is a matter of concern. The case of Kishorechandra Wangkhem is one such incidents where the right to freedom of speech and expression is being violated. She stated that the Acts and Laws that we use today are the old laws which were enacted long back and these laws do not cover various areas and lack the provisions to protect the journalists. Hence, there is a need to redefine the present laws and include the provisions to protect the journalists.

This initiative is to form a platform where journalists, lawyers, activists etc., can come together and fight to uphold the right to freedom of speech and expression. This network will be a platform where strings of light minded people can come together and raise the voices saying that this is not right and together fight for the justice.

Aditi Saxena, advocate

The speaker introduced the HRLN organization which is a collective of lawyers and activist. She stated that HRLN has been working towards upholding the rights of the marginalized groups of people. Further, HRLN has been fighting against injustice in the court and will continue to do so. She reassured that HRLN is ready to extend help in whatever manner possible. She quoted Kishorechandra case’s as an example where right to freedom of speech and expression is being denied. She encouraged and appealed the journalist’s fraternity also to come forward in fighting for their rights to freedom of speech and expression.

Current issues facing journalists and activists in Manipur

Yambem Laba, Human Rights Activist

He started of the speech by explaining that IPC was enacted in 1860. After 10 years, in 1870 Section 124A was amended and sedition was added as an offence. He stated that Kishorechand was arrested for commenting against the policy of the State. He gave two examples of similar incidents like Kishorchand’s case, where two journalists were accused for writing articles in the newspaper. The speaker shared about an incident, where one of the Minister told him that he had sleepless nights thinking what the journalist will write about him regarding an issue which he was involved.

He encouraged the participants not to be scared of expressing the truth and he appealed the journalists to continue writing without any constrains. He said that he will be there and the lawyers, journalists and many other light minded people are there to support them in case of any threats or attacks.

Paojel Chaoba, Imphal Free Press

The speaker shared difficulties faced by the journalists especially in the state of Manipur. He said that the journalists in Manipur have been facing threats, intimidation and attacks from state machineries. Kishorechand’s case is another such example where journalists are being victimised for speaking out the truth. He stated that the journalist community have been raising their voices against the arrest of Kishorchand.

Further, the journalist community of Manipur met the Hon’ble Chief Minister of Manipur and raised their grievances. The CM told them that Kishorechand will be released. He contended that the statement of the Hon’ble CM is questionable as he does not have the authority to take to release a person from jail. It is the responsibility of the judicial authority to release a person from jail. He stated that this is an example of arbitrary actions by the state machineries.

He stated that Kishorechand’s is charged under NSA which is unfortunate. He stated that there were allegation claiming that Kishorechand is not a journalist which has been later clarified by the All Manipur Working Journalist that he is a journalist.

The speaker raised a question, as to why the media fraternities are often being victimised for speaking out the truth? He stated if the media fraternity are doing something wrong, then they should be penalised but when they are speaking out/writing about the truth based on the facts, they should not be penalised. He ended the speech by encouraging the media fraternity to come forward and raise their voices to defend the right to freedom of speech and expression.

Ramkung Pamei, President Maipur Hills Journalist Union & Editor, the CHAM

He stated that the issue concerning the threats, intimidation and attacks against the journalist is very unfortunate. He appealed the journalists from every corners, be it from the hills or valley to all come forward and raise their voices in order to uphold the rights to freedom of speech and expression. He appreciated HRLN for taking the initiative for organizing a programme such as this and said that he will be looking forward to more meetings like this in the future.

Guisuibou Daimei, Former President of Forerunner, Tamenglong

He shared that their organisation was formed by like-minded individuals who are concerned with the public issues and for uplifting of the society. They have faced instances where they were questioned for raising their voices against the state machineries. He requested everyone for support and said that his organization would be approaching HRLN for help whenever there are issues of public interests.

Case study of Arrest of Kishorechandra under NSA

Elangbam Ranjita, wife of Kishorechandra

She said that the case of her husband is pending before the High Court of Manipur. She shared that her family is struggling due to the arrest of her husband but she is thankful for the support and help from different corners and she requested everyone to continue extending their helping hand in the future.

Shreeji Bhavsar, advocate

He started of by describing the incidents of Kishorechand who was arrested for commenting a post in facebook criticising the policy of the state. The state filed a Suo Moto case and put him behind the bars for six days. Kishorechandra was charged on two grounds of sedition and defamation.
He stated that Kishorechand was charged under Section 8 of NSA.

He stated that many well-known personalities have spoken against and criticised the policy of the state in the media but, they not been arrested. Whereas, without any grounds whatsoever, Kishorechand was arrested for a mere facebook post criticising the policy of the State.

He stated that this is a case of arbitrary action to the dissent who are using their rights to freedom of speech and expression. He said that he stands with the family of Kishorechandra and assured to take forward the case.

The Speaker stated that in one instances, he went to meet Kishorechand in the jail. He waited at the jail for three hours but, for some reason the jail authority did not allowed him to meet the victim. Six Manipuri Students were also arrested in Delhi for protesting against the arrest of Kishorechand.

Further, he stated that the charges made against Kishorechandra does not correspond to the acts he has done. Raising a voice against the policy of the State is the right of the citizens and by no means falls under the charges framed against him. He calls for the support of everyone to raise their voices and assured that HRLN will take the matter forward.

Victor, advocate

The Speaker started of by raising a question as to whether the arrest of Kishorechand is warranted and justified. He stated that there are rampant incidences where journalists were being arrested for raising their voices and speaking the truth.

He stated that this is a denial of right to life and liberty which is a basic fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution of India. He stated that the state is trying to portray the victim as a habitual offender.

He further stated that the CM of Manipur has made the present case a personal affair wherein Kishorechand is made a victim for raising his voice against the policy of the present Government. He stated that although the state machineries have authority to arrest but, it should be according to the procedure established by law. The present case is arbitrary and devoid of the procedure established by law. He appeals all sections of people of Manipur to come forward and work together to make Manipur a better place to live.

Challenges before media on rights of the defender in the present times

Mr. Pradip Phanjoubam, editor, Imphal Free Press

He started by quoting that “One can keep the law and breaks the spirit”
However, there were instances where both the law and the spirit are broken. The instance case of Kishorechand is one where both the law and the spirit are both broken. He stated that this is a blatant violation one’s right to freedom of speech and expression.

He further stretched on the role of the media which is to question the action of the State and alert the people of its policies. It is the role of the media to sensitized the people about what the state is doing. He also shared some of the role and responsibilities which the media fraternity should follow. He ended the session by encouraging everyone to come forward and keep raising their voices which is their right.

Mandate and working of the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression

Babloo Loitangbam, Director, Human Rights Alert

He Started the session by explaining that the United Nations on Universal Declaration of Human Rights ensured that everyone is entitled to basic human rights. The right to freedom of expression is a mandate entitled to every individual.

He stated that the issues of freedom of speech and expression is stuck mainly in the electronic print media. The Freedom of speech and expression allows every individual to express their opinion. The introduction of internet has taken this rights to a higher level. However, in the last 10 years or so, the right to freedom of speech and expression has been diverted from its objectives. The present case of Kishorechandra is a classic example of denial of freedom of speech and expression.

He stated that Kishorechandra’s case has been written to the Government but, the reply is yet to be received. Geneva has written to the GOI in the present case. He stated that sometimes, the letter gets stuck in the Home Ministry. He further said that the United Nation is monitoring the present case.

He explained that India has opened the doors for any UN special rapporteur to come and enquire the situation of freedom of speech and expression. However, the sad part is the conflicts over the dates for visit which is a hindrance to excess of justice on time.

The speaker shared a report written by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Speech and Expression consisting of recommendations directed to the ICT and Government. He also shared that there is another report/recommendation on freedom of Assembly and association which contain the recommendation as to who can create a whatsapp group.

Discussion and Strategy session was led by Babloo Loitongbam

There were questions and suggestion from the participants. There were also suggestions from the participants to organised meetings in the hill areas in the future. The session ended with a note from Mr. Babloo. He appeals the participants to act now as action speaks for itself. He said that there will be ups and down and every battle might not be victorious but, if we keep fighting and make noises, the grievances will certainly be heard.

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