India: Manipur journalist held for second time in two years over Facebook comments
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the immediate release of an Indian journalist in the northeastern state of Manipur who has been held for more than two months over a Facebook comment about an online dispute between the wife of a regional government minister and another woman with whom the minister reportedly has a relationship
Kishorechandra Wangkhem, a reporter for the regional news portal The Frontier Manipur, has been held ever since 20 September because of the comment he posted on 3 September. He should have been brought before a judge on 24 November but the hearing was postponed at the request of the police.
In his post, Wangkhem simply wondered whether the online dispute could have electoral consequences for the minister because his wife is from a minority tribal community, the Maram, who are nonetheless the majority in his electoral district, Senapati, whereas the other woman is a member of the Meitei, the majority ethnic group in Manipur as a whole.
The police arrested him on charges of sedition, criminal intimidation and “promoting enmity between different groups” under articles 124, 154 and 503 of India’s penal code, and then got a judge to postpone the 24 November hearing on the grounds that they needed more time to complete their investigation and because of a supposed “law and order problem.”
“The allegations are all baseless,” Wangkhem’s lawyer, Chongtham Victor, told RSF. “There is no correlation between the allegations and the facts. There is no incriminating evidence against him to prove any of the charges.”
“The totally Kafkaesque charges brought against Kishorechandra Wangkhem clearly constitute judicial harassment,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “We urge Manipur chief minister Nongthombam Biren Singh to order his immediate release. Everything indicates that this journalist is the victim of political reprisals because of his past criticisms of the local and federal governments.”
Wangkhem’s wife, Elamban Ranjita, told RSF she suspected that the Manipur authorities were repeating what they did two years ago, in December 2018, when they had him arrested and then managed to hold him without trial for what was, according to RSF’s tally, a total of 133 days.
His arrest in 2018 was prompted by a video he posted on Facebook in which he referred to the chief minister as a “puppet” of Prime Minister Modi and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteer Organization), a paramilitary group formed by Hindu nationalists and the BJP, the ruling party in Manipur and at the national level.
“My husband is being harassed because he is a journalist,” Ranjita said. “He gets targeted because he is critical of the government.”
India is ranked 142nd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.