“About six policemen came like wildfire, roughed him up, and took him away,” said Ranjita, wife of Manipuri journalist Kishorechandra Wanghkem, who was arrested in Manipur on 13 May for a Facebook post against cow dung and cow urine.
Following the death of Manipur BJP president Saikhom Jitendra Singh due to COVID-19, Wangkhem and political activist Erendro Leichombam had challenged the unscientific claim propagated by several BJP leaders, including Singh, that cow urine and cow dung can cure COVID-19.
Although the duo were granted bail four days after their arrest, they were charged under the stringent National Security Act (NSA) on Monday, 17 May.
“The NSA order is completely arbitrary. Statements made by BJP leaders claiming cow urine and cow dung as cures for COVID-19 are more serious than what the two accused have said. How do their statements cause unrest?” Chongtham Victor, lawyer of the two accused, told The Quint.
“I didn’t even know that he had put up a post. It happened so fast. He hadn’t said anything abusive but because the BJP leader has passed away, people are emotional,” added Ranjita.
“It seems that the police were just waiting for an excuse to arrest him again.”Ranjita, wife of Kishorechandra Wanghkem
‘Draconian Laws Taking Away People’s Basic Rights’
This isn’t the first time Wangkhem has been booked under the NSA. The Manipuri journalist was arrested in November 2018 for uploading a video, in which he had criticised state Chief Minister N Biren Singh, the BJP, and the RSS over a function organised on the birth anniversary of Rani Lakshmibai.
He was arrested and charged with sedition once the video went viral on social media. After a local court granted him bail, saying Wangkhem’s opinion didn’t amount to sedition, he was arrested under the NSA the very next day. He was arrested again in September 2020.
Leichombam, convener of the People’s Resurgence and Justice Alliance, a Manipur-based political party, too, has been arrested before. In 2018, he was held for posting a critical comment and video against the BJP-led government in the state. Last year, he was booked by Manipur police on charges of sedition over a Facebook comment.
“The use of the UAPA and the NSA has escalated in the past few years. The draconian laws directly attack Article 21 of our constitution and take away a person’s basic rights,” Victor said.
What The Court Said
In its order on Monday, Imphal West District Magistrate Kirankumar had said that Wangkhem and Leichombam, who were in police custody, were likely to be “released on bail in the near future” and that, they would “resume activities which are prejudicial to the security of the state and for maintenance of public order on being released on bail” and that therefore, “they should be prevented from the commission such prejudicial activities through an alternative preventive measure”.
The district magistrate then further ordered Wangkhem and Leichombam to be detained under section 3(2) of the NSA, 1980 until further notice, as and when they are released on bail.
Asking in vain, Victor said, “What warrants their arrests at this juncture when the pandemic is raging? We will file a representation to the Home Ministry and other concerned authorities and try to dispose of the case judiciously.”