A television journalist has been detained for criticising Manipur’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government on social media under a law intended to ensure national security, leading to protests in national capital New Delhi. He will remain in custody for a year, the highest period of detention permitted under the National Security Act (NSA), a government statement read.
Kishorechandra Wangkhem, 39, was working for a television channel in the the northeastern state last month when he uploaded several video clips calling chief minister N Biren Singh a “puppet” of the central government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Critics have dismissed the Manipur government’s contention that his activities were “prejudicial to the security of the state and maintenance of public order”. “It is nothing but a blatant abuse of the law and powers of the government,” Mr Wangkhem’s lawyer, N Victor, told Reuters over the telephone.
Mr Victor said he planned to appeal against his client’s detention, with a hearing likely on Thursday.
India has one of the world’s largest and most diverse media industries, but its journalists often face harassment and violence. The country is ranked 138th in the World Press Freedom Index run by Reporters Sans Frontieres – lower than Zimbabwe, Afghanistan and Myanmar – as a result of censorship laws and the murder of several journalists.
Mr Wangkhem was initially arrested on separate charges of sedition on November 21 before being released on November 25, his wife, Ranjita Elangbam, told Reuters. He was then detained on November 27 under the NSA, which allows for detention of up to a year without trial, and has since been held at a jail in Imphal. A board of judges set up under the Act approved his detention on Thursday.
In the posts, Mr Wangkham criticised the state government for commemorating freedom fighter, the Rani of Jhansi, a symbol of resistance against British colonial rule in the mid-1800s, who he said had nothing to do Manipur’s own struggle against the British.
“Don’t betray, don’t insult the freedom fighters of Manipur,” he said in one of the posts.
Manipur’s deputy home minister, Dr Th Charanjeet Singh, said that the state had considered the evidence and stood by its decision to detain Mr Wangkhem. Manipur Governor Najma Heptulla has also approved the advisory board’s recommendation on the journalist’s detention under the NSA.
“The Governor of Manipur, after considering the past activities of the detenu and potential danger of his activities, (has decided that there is) apprehension of his continuing to act in similar prejudicial activities the moment he is released from detention. (Thereby), the said person should be detained for the maximum period of 12 months as provided under Section 13 of the said Act,” the statement read.