Manipur Journalist, Activist Critical Of The BJP Remain Jailed Two Months Later For Sedition

Manipur Journalist, Activist Critical Of The BJP Remain Jailed Two Months Later For Sedition
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It has been almost two months since a journalist, Kishorechandra Wangkhem, and an activist, Erendro Leichombam, were incarcerated for their social media posts against BJP leaders and the state’s ruling government. The duo who belong to Imphal have been vocal in critiquing the BJP government in Manipur. They were picked up by the local police on the night of May 13.

Journalist Wangkhem and activist Leichombam have reportedly been targeted since the BJP came to power in 2017.

According to the latest developments, Leichombam, who is a postgraduate in economic policy from Harvard University, was detained over a Facebook post in which he had said that cow’s urine does not help in protecting oneself from the deadly COVID-19. This was the third time a Manipur-based political activist was arrested under the National Security Act, 1980 (NSA). Leichombam’s sister has alleged that the police not only stormed her house but also assaulted her family members, including her mother.

On the same night, the police forcefully entered journalist Wangkhem’s residence and dragged him out from his house. He was also booked under the NSA for his social media post.

Both arrests were based on complaints by the local BJP leaders for mocking the death of Manipur BJP President Saikhom Tikendra Singh from COVID-19. 

“Cow dung, cow urine didn’t work. Groundless argument. Tomorrow I will eat fish,” said the journalist’s post. 

Leichombam had tweeted, “The cure for Corona is not cow dung and cow urine. The cure is science and common sense. Professor ji RIP.”

These are the two major names that have recently come into limelight but, the Manipur police has allegedly used Article 14 to file multiple sedition cases against dozens of people since last year, 13 in April 2020 alone, for criticising the state government over the mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was not the first time when Wangkhem was booked under the NSA. He was first detained in August 2018 over his Facebook post for calling the BJP a “Budhu Joker Party”. He was arrested and was jailed for four days. The same year in November, the journalist had again invited the NSA against himself after posting a video on Facebook alleging that the state’s CM Biren Singh is a ‘puppet of Narendra Modi’ for organising a function in Manipur to celebrate the birth anniversary of Rani Lakshmibai. According to Wangkhem, the freedom fighter Lakshmibai had done nothing for the freedom of Manipur. He was released in April 2019 after spending more than 100 days in prison.

In September 2020, the police picked up Wangkhem again from his house on the charges of breaking the social harmony between two different groups through one of his Facebook posts.

Leichombam, who is considered close to activist Irom Sharmila and is one of the founding members of the People’s Resurgence and Justice Alliance, was first arrested in September 2020 for posting a video alleging that some Bihari people are threatening Manipuri youths.  

Last year in July 2020, he was booked under the NSA for making a derogatory comment on the newly elected BJP MP Sanajaoba Leishemba’s photo with Home Minister Amit Shah.

Last month, Leichombam’s father had moved the apex court to challenge the stringent NSA act against his son. He raised several points in his petition before the court saying that the detention of his son for just criticising the BJP and expressing his view on social media is a clear violation of the Supreme Court order in which it had categorically said no coercive action should be taken against the voices on social media by the state government.

According to The Wirethe family members of both Leichombam and Wangkhem have not been allowed to meet them at the Sajjwa jail citing COVID-19 restrictions. 

The increase in the sedition charges to curtail the free voices, especially during the CAA-NRC protest, farm bill agitation, and for criticising the ruling government, have significantly increased over the past few years. To curb the criticism, the Centre and state governments have been targeting journalists, students, activists and comedians under criminal and anti-terrorism laws like the NSA and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967.

Recently, a global press watchdog ­– Reporters Without Borders (RSF) – released a list of global leaders who fiercely suppress free press in their respective countries. PM Modi has been categorised as one of the 37 predators of press freedom, joining North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-Un, China’s Xi Jinping, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammad bin Salman, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, and Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte among others. The report comes almost a month after PM Modi signed a joint statement at the G-7 summit to promote the “open societies” that reaffirm and encourage the values of “freedom of expression, both online and offline, as a freedom that safeguards democracy and helps people live free from fear and oppression”.

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