Lawyers representing journalist Kishorechandra Wangkhem who is detained under the National Security Act (NSA), speak to Laxmi Murthy about why slapping a preventive detention law is overkill.
Imphal-based journalist Kishorechandra Wangkhem, who was taken into custody by the Manipur police on November 26, 2018, was ordered to be detained for 12 months under the draconian National Security Act, 1980 (NSA). Kishorechandra was arrested for a write-up on his Facebook page criticising the BJP-led state government for celebrating the birth anniversary of Rani of Jhansi in Manipur.
Speaking on the side lines of a consultation ‘Legal Defence of Defenders’ on January 20, 2019 at the Press Club of Manipur in Imphal, organised by the Human Rights Law Network (HRLN), Shreeji Bhavsar, Advocate, Supreme Court of India said, “This is a case of arbitrary action against democratic dissent against those who are exercising their rights to freedom of speech and expression.”
He narrated a conversation with the jail superintendent which is laden with irony. On being questioned about why Kishorechandra was denied a pen, the jail superintendent responded that none of the prisoners was allowed a pen as it could be used as a weapon. Pointing out that denial of reading and writing material was a violation of the jail manual, Bhavsar added, “I told the jail superintendent that the pen was indeed a weapon – but a non-violent one!” Today, all prisoners in Manipur Central Jail have pens and paper.
According to Bhavsar, the charges made against Kishorechandra do not correspond to his acts. “Raising a voice against the policy of the state is the right of all citizens and by no means falls under the charges framed against him.”
As per Section 14A of the NSA, the circumstances in which persons may be detained for periods longer than three months without obtaining the opinion of Advisory Board are to prevent the person from acting in any manner prejudicial to— (a) the defence of India; or (b) the security of India; or (c) the security of the State; or (d) the maintenance of public order; or (e) the maintenance of supplies and services essential to the community.
From available evidence, Kishorechandra’s write up on Facebook in no way amounts to any of the circumstances described above.
Advocate Victor, representing Kishorechandra, also raised the question of whether his arrest was warranted and justified. “The state is trying to portray Kishorechandra as a habitual offender.” He further stated that the state machinery should function according to the procedure established by law. Commenting on the fact that Kisohrechandra was granted bail by the Chief Judicial Magistrate who did not find him a threat to law and order, and therefore slapping of a preventive detention law was uncalled for, Victor said, “The present case is arbitrary and devoid of the procedure established by law.”