Editors detained, citizens booked for Facebook posts: Manipur’s crackdown on dissent

31 January 2021
Paojel Chaoba and Dhiren Sadokpam, two Imphal-based editors of The Frontier Manipur, were detained on 17 January and booked for sedition.
Courtesy Paojel Chaoba and Dhiren Sadokpam
Paojel Chaoba and Dhiren Sadokpam, two Imphal-based editors of The Frontier Manipur, were detained on 17 January and booked for sedition.
Courtesy Paojel Chaoba and Dhiren Sadokpam

On 17 January, two Imphal-based editors of The Frontier Manipur, a news portal, were detained for an article published online. Dhiren Sadokpam, the editor in chief, and Paojel Chaoba, the executive editor were taken into police custody and booked for sedition and criminal conspiracy. They were also charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. M Joy Luwang, an independent contributor and the author of the article, was also charged under these sections.

 The article titled “Revolutionary journey in a mess,” was published on 8 January. It took stock of and criticised the “armed revolutionary movement” in Manipur, a reference to an armed secessionist movement in the state since the 1960s. The article outlined the “mistakes committed by armed revolutionary leaders from 1990 to 2008.” It noted that “revolutionary groups competed against each other” instead of establishing a “people’s political movement.” It further accused the armed groups of falling “prey to the Indian government’s design of breaking their backbones.”

In a first information report filed at the Singjamei police station in the Imphal West district, the police stated that the article supported revolutionary groups. “The author openly endorsed revolutionary ideologies and activities and expressed shock and dismay at the deteriorating character of the armed revolutionary leaders of Manipur,” the FIR said. “He called out to the people of Manipur to become true revolutionaries.” The FIR continued, “His article clearly expressed sympathy and support to the ideologies and activities of armed revolutionary groups and out rightly called the Rule of Law of the Union and the State Government as Colonial Law thereby attempting to bring hatred, contempt and feeling of enmity against Rule of Law.” The FIR added that the article is likely to cause “fear or alarm to the public inducing them to commit an offence against the State thereby posing serious threats of internal security issues.”

The police asked the editors for information about the author of the article. The editors told me that they informed the police that they did not know the author and had merely received the article on WhatsApp. Both the editors were kept in police custody on 17 January and released the next day. The detention of the editors is part of a pattern in Manipur of intimidation by law and curtailing speech and writing that is seen to be against the government.

Chaoba said he was detained on 17 January at around 12:30 pm.  According to Chaoba, the police told him that he was not being produced in court the next day because members of the All Manipur Working Journalists Union had approached N Biren Singh, Manipur’s chief minister, and Singh had said the editors would be released.

Chaoba added that members of the AMWJU and the Manipur Editors Guild asked him to write a letter to K Meghachandra Singh, the Imphal West superintendent of police, stating that the editors did not know the author M Joy Luwang. “So I wrote that letter and I was released,” Chaoba told me. In the letter to the SP, Chaoba stated the source of the article was “unverified” and that it was an “oversight” to publish it. However, Chaoba questioned the entire process. “How come everything is surpassed, how can a man just be let go by saying I do not know this Joy Luwang?” Chaoba said. He asked how a person charged with sedition can be “freed with a declaration”? He added, “There has been a travesty in conducting this investigation by not letting me come before the judge. How can the chief minister on his whim let somebody go? The chief minister is using the law to curtail free voice and the freedom of the media.”

I spoke to P Sanjay, the officer in charge of the Singjamei police station. He stated that the editors were detained for one night. “The All Manipur Working Journalists Union approached the SP,” he said. “I don't know what they had in the meeting with them but SP gave me an instruction just to release.” 

Kimi Colney is a reporting fellow at The Caravan.

Keywords: Manipur freedom of speech freedom of expression Sedition Dissent