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Front Line Defenders slam ‘judicial harassment’, demand drop of charges against Shintha

Shintha (with the garland) was arrested recently

Rights watchdog maintained that Shintha is a human rights defender and a strong advocate against the “increasingly powerful drug nexus” in the region.

TFM Desk

Front Line Defenders (FLD) condemned the “judicial harassment” of human rights defender Laishram Herojit Singh (also known as Shintha), stating that he was being targeted as a result of his human rights work to protect the local community against powerful and corrupt interests in Manipur.

FLD in a statement demanded to immediately drop all charges against Shintha, maintaining that he was being targeted solely as a result of his “legitimate and peaceful human rights work”.

It also urged the authorities to cease the police, military and judicial harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders in Manipur.

The Indian authorities should guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in the country are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals, and free of all restrictions including police and judicial harassment, it further demanded.

The human rights watchdog also stated that the use of the UAPA against Shintha and other human rights defenders is aimed at “vilifying them as terrorists and silencing their work in defence of human rights”.

FLD also mentioned the circumstances in which Shintha was arrested. 

On April 7, 2021, human rights defender Shintha, was arrested at his home by officers from the Thoubal Police Station in the Northeast Indian state of Manipur. The defender was arrested on charges under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, which relates to the offence of giving support to a terrorist organisation, for his alleged membership of a militant group, it said.

On April 12, 2021, the court accepted the human rights defender’s bail application, however the charges against him remain, it added.

The human rights watchdog maintained that Shintha is a human rights defender and a strong advocate against the “increasingly powerful drug nexus” in the region. He is the Secretary General of the Coalition Against Drug and Alcohol (CADA) in Thoubal District, a civil society organisation campaigning against the impact of drug and alcohol abuse.

In his capacity, the human rights defender has led several campaigns to further awareness on the topic. Sintha also actively engages with and advocates against the issues of violence against women and children, mining and its impact on rights of Indigenous communities and the protection and preservation of the environment in the state of Manipur, the statement added.

“Neither the human rights defender nor his family members, who were present in the house at the time of his arrest, were shown an arrest warrant. Sintha was then taken to the Thoubal Police Station where, according to the human rights defender, he was slapped and asked to sign an arrest memo, claiming he worked with a militant group, which he refused to sign.”

Contrary to the fact that he was arrested from his home in Thoubal, the First Information Report (FIR) filed by the police against Sintha states that he was detained in Wangjing, after the police reportedly received information that members of the United National Liberation Front militant group, were in Wangjing at the time. The FIR claims that Sintha was detained for the suspicious manner in which he was behaving while allegedly in Wangjing.

Earlier that day, Sintha had participated in a peaceful protest against the acquittal of an influential individual accused in a highly publicised drug haul case from 2018. Along with placards condemning the acquittal, protestors also carried placards with messages calling for the resignation of the chief minister of the state, for his complacency in the case, it added.

Once the protest dispersed, a local police official contacted one of the protest organisers and mentioned that the authorities were unhappy about the slogans directed against the chief minister.

The following day, on April 8, 2021, Sintha appeared before the court of Chief Judicial Magistrate in Thoubal, and was asked whether he accepted the charges against him, which the human rights defender categorically denied. Shintha was then remanded to four days in police custody and on April 12, 2021, was granted bail by the Chief Judicial Magistrate in Thoubal District. The charges against the human rights defender remain however, it observed.

Human rights defenders and colleagues of Sintha believe that his arrest and the charges levelled against him are in direct reprisal for his human rights work, advocating against powerful forces within the state and the interests of powerful criminal entities, added.

Based in Dublin (Ireland), Front Line Defenders was founded in 2001 with the specific aim of protecting human rights defenders at risk, people who work, non-violently, for any or all of the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Front Line Defenders address the protection needs identified by HRDs themselves.

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