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Defending the defenders: HRLN calls for release of journalist Keshorechandra Wangkhem

Date : 30/01/2019

Human Rights Law Network (HRLN) in association with Manipur Students’ Association Delhi (MSAD) organized a press conference on Tuesday demanding the immediate release of journalist Keshorechandra Wangkhem. Wangkhem was detained under the National Security Act (NSA) by Manipur government for criticising the government.

Human Rights Law Network (HRLN) founder and senior Advocate Colin Gonsalves condemned the attack on freedom of speech and expression.

“Sedition law is not understood properly- in the old English law, thinking or saying a few words in privacy against the crown was punishable. Things may be offensive and abhorrent but it has nothing to do with sedition law unless torts and words are supported by actions. Classic cases in Punjab and Kashmir where people who hadn’t actually acted against the State were said to be seditious, and the Supreme Court acquitted them both. We have initiated the Legal Defence of Defenders, where across India, a network of lawyers and a journalist is made so that any journalist who can’t find a lawyer or can’t say for one, can get one,” said Gonsalves.

Justice Markandey Katju, former Judge of Supreme Court of India, former chairman of Press Council of India said, “Undemocratic politicians have lost their minds, people are allowed to dissent to the govt. in a democracy. In a democracy people have the right to criticize the govt. and democracy means people are supreme. There have been many cases where artists, cartoonist and journalists have been attacked. This is my appeal to Manipur’s people to become the leader and guide the way and start the movement.”

KeshorechandraWangkhem, a journalist in Manipur, was arrested under National Security Act (NSA) on November 27, 2018, for a video he uploaded on social media. In the video, Keshorechandra is seen criticizing the N. Biren Singh’s government for comparing the fight of Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi against the British with that of Manipur’s freedom movement against the colonial rule.

The government’s decision to detain the journalist under NSA came as a shock to the journalist and human rights community. 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, Keshorechandra was picked up by local police and later charged under the NSA.

Ranjita Elangbam, wife of Keshorechandra narrated how their lives were turned upside down only because her husband and journalist decided to criticize the government.

“Police forces were in our house searching for him, in all places, shocking, it might be there duty or under pressure to look for that guy, but they were searching for my daughter, how much money you have. They searched my phone, took it away and we couldn’t communicate with anyone.

The police kept him under judicial custody for 5 days. On 26th November they got bail and the next day he was detained under NSA. We were left helpless and stranded alone and we didn’t know how to sort things out. This is an appeal to everyone to support us and demand immediate release of KeshorechandWangkhem, ” said Ranjita.

HRLN has been fighting the case of journalist Keshorechandra and February 1 is the next hearing.

“In modern India, ‘the “state” is not free to act in any manner it likes, it is inconceivable that a civilized country would use preventive detention as a substitute for the criminal law. National Security Act has been misused and abused far too often as a political weapon of those in power against their political or ideological enemies and to curtail the dissent voice. NSA is dangerous to a secular democracy like India as it is extremely prejudicial to personal liberty and violates fundamental rights of freedom of speech and expression. We strongly condemn the use of draconian law like NSA against Journalist, political and human rights activist working in the interest of people and demand immediate release of Journalist Kishorchandra and to repeal NSA, ” said Shreeji Bhavsar, Advocate in HRLN, who is handling the case of Keshorechandra.

The case has attracted a lot of criticism from media and people. Thokchom Veewon, President Manipur Students’ Association Delhi, pointed out that detaining people under NSA has become a norm in Manipur and this is the kind of society we are living in.
“Manipur as a state has been neglected by the government and we have been fighting against the armed forces since a long time. This has become a norm to detain someone under NSA as far as Manipur is concerned. And this is disheartening to know that this is a kind of society we are living in. This is an appeal to people and the government to release Keshorechandra and raise voice in helping us to protect our rights,” added Veewon.

They echoed the concerns of Ranjita, wife of Keshorechandra and demanded immediate release from both Manipur state government and the central government.

The meeting was attended by Sabina Inderjit, general secretary Indian Journalist Union (IGU) and the Vice President of International Federation of Journalist (IFJ). Sabina Inderjit said IJU strongly condemned the arrest of Journalist Keshorchand under NSA by the Manipur Government. IGU not only condemned the arrest of Keshorchandra Wangkhem but also told to our each state unit members to condemn and follow the case. Sabina reportedly told to Ranjita, Wife of Keshorchand that “we are with the family of Keshorchandra. You are not alone in this fight”.

Deputy editor at The Wire, Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty was also took part in the Press Conference Cum Public Meeting.

Sangeeta said “In the last assembly election, people of Manipur were desperate for a change of government but the election machinery in the state was such that they were not sure of it. When the BJP led government was formed after the election many welcome it. There was a lot of hope from the government from both in the hills and in the valley. Increasing I have been noticing a feeling of public discontent with the government. They expected a lot from it. If you set aside the expletives that Keshorchandra used, what you spot is the same loss of hope and frustration. I request the Chief Minister to recognize the sentiment behind this discontent like any good leader would and release him from custody. The CM must not forget the people of Manipur have seen a lot of miss-governance and injustice. What they want is a government that listens to them. I stand in solidarity with Kishorchandra’s family in this hour of need and stand on the side of the citizen’s right to dissent”.

At the end of this Press Conference cum Public Meeting, People collectively condemn the arrest of Keshorchandra Wangkhem under NSA and urged the Government of Manipur and Government of India to release Keshorchandra Wangkhem immediately.

Media coverage Links on the Press Conference cum Public Meeting on 29th January 2019 :

Manipur | Former SC judge calls for boycott of CM until jailed journalist is freed

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