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Manipur journalist & activist booked for Facebook posts faced NSA, sedition charges before

Journalist Kishorechandra Wangkhem and activist Erendro Leichombam were booked for their social media message posted in the wake of state BJP chief Tikendra Singh’s Covid-related death.

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New Delhi: Imphal-based journalist Kishorechandra Wangkhem and activist Erendro Leichombam, who were booked by Manipur Police under the stringent National Security Act (NSA) earlier this week over Facebook posts, have come under the state’s radar before for other social media posts.

The two had posted about the inefficacy of cow dung and cow urine as treatment for Covid-19, following the death of BJP state president S. Tikendra Singh due to the disease.

They were arrested on 13 May based on a complaint made by state BJP Vice President Usham Deban Singh and General Secretary P. Premananda Meetei, alleging that the social media posts had insulted the Manipur BJP chief, who died the same day from Covid-related complications.

Paojel Chaoba, journalist and Wangkhem’s colleague, told ThePrint that Wangkhem had been “targeted” repeatedly in the past three years because arrests and intimidations have not deterred him from expressing his opinions, even critical ones, freely on social media.

“It is clearly a violation of the freedom of speech. How can you arrest a person for social media posts which are not about religion and such aspects have been put out in a satirical way?” said Chaoba.

“It is unfair to arrest anyone on such flimsy grounds for mere social media posts which may not be to the government’s liking,” he added.

Lawyer Chongtham Victor, who is representing both Wangkhem and Leichombam, said they were exploring the option of approaching the Supreme Court directly.

ThePrint reached K. Meghachandra Singh, superintendent of police, Imphal West, over phone and text messages for a comment on the arrests, but did not receive a response till the time of publishing this report.

Also read: Jagan govt says sedition case against Andhra MP justified, claims his speeches stoked unrest

Not new to trouble over Facebook posts

Wangkhem, who is associated with news portal Frontier Manipur, was arrested in November 2018 under the NSA for posting a video on social media criticising the BJP-led state government. He had also faced sedition charges then.

In the video, Wangkhem had slammed Chief Minister N. Biren Singh for linking ‘Manipuri nationalism’, with the patriotism of Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi, one of the leading figures of the 1857 uprising against the British.

He was released in April 2019, after the Manipur High Court quashed all charges against him.

He was, however, rearrested in October last year, and booked under various sections of the Indian Penal Code including sedition, for a post criticising the state’s titular king, Sanajaoba Leishemba, after he became a BJP Rajya Sabha MP.

The activist too has been in trouble with the police in the past.

Leichombam, convenor of the People’s Resurgence and Justice Alliance — a political party he co-founded with activist Irom Sharmila in 2016 — had faced sedition charges in July last year, for a comment on Leishemba.

He had been arrested in 2018, for refusing to take down an allegedly inflammatory video he had shared on Facebook.

Also read: Why BJP just can’t digest the election defeat to Mamata in West Bengal

Latest trouble

According to reports, Wangkhem’s Facebook post following the BJP state chief’s death last  week read: “Cow dung cow urine didn’t work. Groundless argument. Tomorrow I will eat fish”. Leichombam, it was reported, had written: “The cure for Corona is not cow dung & cow urine. The cure is science & common sense. Professor ji RIP”.

Though Wangkhem and Leichombam were granted bail by Imphal’s Chief Judicial Magistrate Y. Somorjit Singh on 17 May, they were soon rearrested as the state government invoked the NSA.

In two separate orders on 17 May, District Magistrate (DM) Th. Kirankumar said Wangkhem and Leichombam should be detained under Section 3(2) of National Security Act, 1980, until further orders for their release on bail.

Branding the two as “habitual offenders”, a senior state government official told ThePrint that the “post at this time (of the crisis) had the potential to create a law and order problem”. This was why they were rearrested after getting bail, he said.

The timing of the post, the official added, was not right since a person (the BJP state president) had just died of Covid and others in his family were still battling the disease.

Victor, who is representing both men, told ThePrint that their detention is a clear violation of an earlier Supreme Court order. Taking note of the surge in Covid-19 cases, the apex court had earlier this month passed detailed orders on ways to decongest prisons, including release of all prisoners who had been granted bail or parole last year in view of the pandemic.

“We have prepared a representation that we will send to the government authorities here and to the union home ministry, seeking recall of the order [the DM’s order],” he said.

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)

Also read: UP BJP MLA hits out at Yogi govt, says ‘if I speak too much, it may attract sedition charges’ 


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