The Human Rights Defenders’ Alert (HRDA)-India has expressed serious concern over the recent arbitrary detention and harassment of a senior journalist in Manipur and urged the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to direct the Manipur Police director general to initiate immediate probe into the incident.
“Urgently direct the director general of police of Manipur to initiate an immediate, independent, thorough, transparent, effective and impartial investigation into the arbitrary detention of the journalist and submit a report to the NHRC within two weeks,” the HRDA urged the NHRC in a statement.
The HRDA-India, Tamil Nadu appealed to the NHRC for action against the “harassment, illegal house search, and arbitrary detention” of Hemantakumar Ningombam, editor of Sanaleibak, a Manipuri daily, by police personnel of Imphal East, Manipur “for expressing his opinion on TV on the state government's anti-drug policy.”
The rights body appealed to the NHRC to treat the incident as a case of reprisal against a journalist and human rights defender for exercising his constitutionally guaranteed fundamental rights.
It further urged to provide security to Hemantakumar Ningombam, saying “he stands at further risk of reprisals and submit a report to the NHRC within two weeks”.
The HRDA named Irilbung Police Station Manipur, SP, Imphal East M Pradip Singh and Inspector General of Police Themthing Ngasangva as perpetrators of the alleged violation which took place in Imphal East, Manipur on January 4, 2022.
Around 7.30 am on January 4, three vehicles of Manipur Police personnel led by 2nd officer in charge of Irilbung Police Station went to the residence of Hemantakumar, it stated. The police personnel entered and searched all the rooms, including that of the ladies, looking for Ningombam, it stated.
The security personnel then took him to the Irilbung Police Station and detained him there, it stated.
Hemantakumar was taken to the police station in his own vehicle with one police personnel, it mentioned.
SP Imphal East M Pradip Singh and IGP Themthing Ngasangva came to meet the editor at the police station. He was detained for around four hours at the police station and later released, it added.
The reason for the detention as given by the police was for expressing his opinion on War on Drugs in relation to the poppy cartel in ISTV (local cable TV network) discussion, it stated.
This is not the first time the security personnel arrested and detained journalists in the state for expressing his or her opinion against the government, it stated.
Earlier, there have been numerous cases where many journalists have been arrested and booked under the National Security Act on frivolous charges, it continued.
In the present case, it is for suggesting to the government how to effectively conduct its War on Drugs, it further stated.
“We firmly believe that the act of subjecting a senior journalist to a search without any search warrant and then subjecting him to harassment by detaining him in a police station are acts of political reprisal to suppress any dissent against government policy of the war on drugs,” it added.
Hemantakumar also said that the police could have called him in good faith rather than the heavy-handed approach where he was publicly humiliated in front of the locality as if he was a criminal, it stated. A house search needs a prior notice or search warrant which was not given by the police, it added.
The Constitution gives journalists the right to exercise freedom of speech and expression. The UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders 1998 seeks to protect the monitoring and advocacy functions of defenders by recognizing their right to obtain and disseminate information relevant to the enjoyment of human rights, it further stated.
If journalists are muffled from their reporting on facts when they criticize politicians and public officials, seldom will they dare to take a stand and the fourth pillar of democracy will be crushed further, it stated. The protection of journalists and human rights defenders, and ending impunity for attacks against them, is a priority for safeguarding freedom of expression, it added.
The states are under an obligation to prevent, protect against, and prosecute attacks against journalists and human rights defenders, it further stated. A free press and active civil society are essential to ensure the public's right to know so that governments and institutions can be held accountable, it added.