An Indian television journalist from the state of Manipur in northeast India had been detained for criticizing the ruling right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government on social media. He was detained under laws intended to ensure national security, leading to protests in the capital, New Delhi.
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Kishorechandra Wangkhem was working for a television channel when he uploaded several video clips last month calling state BJP Chief Minister N Biren Singh, a “puppet” of the central government led by far-right Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “It is nothing but blatant abuse of the law and powers of the government,” Wangkhem’s lawyer, N. Victor, told Reuters by telephone.
Victor said he planned to appeal his client’s detention, with a hearing likely to take place Thursday. Wangkhem was initially arrested on separate charges of sedition on Nov. 21, before being released on Nov. 25, his wife, Ranjita Elangbam, told Reuters.
He was then detained on Nov. 27 under India’s National Security Act, which allows for detention of up to a year without trial, and has since been held at a jail in the state capital Imphal. A panel of judges set up under the act approved his detention Thursday.
“After considering the proximate past activities of the [detainee] and potential danger of his activities which are prejudicial to the security of the state and maintenance of public order and there is apprehension of his continuing to act in [similarly] prejudicial activities, the moment he is released from detention, is further of the opinion that the said person should be detained for the maximum period of 12 months as provided under Section 13 of the said Act,” the NSA advisory board approval order said about his detention.
In the posts, Wangkhem criticized the state government for commemorating a north Indian 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. Th Charajeet Singh, Manipur’s deputy home minister, said in a statement the state had considered the evidence and stood by its decision to detain Wangkhem.
The Indian Journalists Union and Press Council of India condemned the arrest. On Dec. 17, members of the Manipur Students Association, Delhi and Manipur Muslim Students Union staged a protest in front of the state administrative Manipur Bhavan building in Delhi to oppose the detention of Wangkhem.
Indian journalists often face harassment and violence. The country is ranked 138th in the World Press Freedom Index run by Reporters Without Border (RSF) — lower than Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, and Myanmar — as a result of censorship laws and the murder of several journalists.
The RSF’s latest report put India as one of the most dangerous countries for journalists with six journalists dying in 2018. Earlier in December, an Indigenous journalist Amit Topno was found dead. He was covering an anti-state tribal movement in India before his death.