Journalist bodies on Thursday, December 20, condemned the arrest and 12 months detention of Manipuri journalist Kishorechand Wangkhem and demanded that the charges levelled against him under the National Security Act (NSA) be dropped. He was booked for allegedly criticizing Manipur Chief Minister N. Biren Singh and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
"We, the undersigned journalist organisations express deep concern at the twelve month detention of Kishorechand Wangkhem, under the National Security Act," said a statement jointly issued by Indian Women's Press Corps, Press Club of India, Press Association and Federation of Press Clubs in India.
"We demand that the harsh provisions under which Wangkhem has been booked be dropped in the interests of justice and the right to freedom of speech and expression."
Wangkhem, 39, who is employed as an anchor-reporter with a news channel ISTV, was arrested on November 21 by Manipur Police for uploading a video where he reportedly criticized the Prime Minister and called N. Biren Singh as a "puppet of the Centre", following which, the state government cracked down on him with a heavy hand.
The statement added that the preventive detention under the NSA for twelve months even after the court did not find anything seditious in Wangkhem’s remarks is totally uncalled for and deserves condemnation
He was booked for sedition and later released following a magisterial order that did not find anything seditious in his remarks, only to be booked again under the NSA, alleged the journalist body statement.
The magistrate in his release order said "his statements do not seem as an attempt to disturb peace... it was a mere expression of opinion against the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister of Manipur which cannot be equated with an attack to invite people to violence against the Government of India or Manipur to topple it... ", said the statement.
The statement added that the preventive detention under the NSA for twelve months even after the court did not find anything seditious in Wangkhem's remarks is totally uncalled for and deserves condemnation.
"There are judicial pronouncements on what may constitute seditious language and action. To book individuals under non-bailable and harsh laws for using allegedly intemperate language to criticize government's decisions or individuals in government, is a measure of governmental overreach apart from being a violation of the fundamental right to free speech," said the statement.
NSA is a law that allows the government to put those people it suspects to be a threat to public order under extended periods of preventive detention.