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NHRC admits complaint on Hemantakumar’s ‘arbitrary detention’; SP says editor’s comment undermines moral of police

Sanaleibak Editor Hemantakumar Ningombam

Manipur Police had stated that Hemantakumar Ningombam’s comment “could discourage and undermine the moral of the police department” fighting the state government’s War on Drugs. The police also “wanted to know who the two women/ladies” referred to by Hemantakumar in his comment during the discussion on local cable TV network.

TFM Report

While the Manipur Police was claiming that Editor of Sanaleibak daily newspaper Hemantakumar Ningombam was summoned to police station as his comment undermined its “moral”, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on Thursday admitted a complaint on the “Intimidation, harassment and arbitrary detention” of senior journalist and assigned the case as diary number 249/IN/2023. See Complaint Copy here: Complaint_Copy_of_HRCnet_HN

The complaint was lodged by Henri Tiphagne, the National Working Secretary of Human Rights Defenders’ Alert (HRDA) – India. In the complaint, the HRDA stated that on January 4, 2023, at around 7:30 AM, three vehicles of Manipur Police personnel led by the 2nd Officer in Charge of Irilbung Police Station went to the residence of Hemantakumar Ningombam, editor of Sanaleibak Daily, a newspaper in Manipur. “The police personnel entered and searched all the rooms, including that of the ladies, looking for Ningombam”, said HRDA.

HRDA appealed the NHRC to treat this as a case of reprisal against a journalist and human rights defender for exercising his constitutionally guaranteed fundamental rights. It urged the NHRC to urgently:

  1. Direct the Director General of Police of Manipur to initiate an immediate, independent, thorough, transparent, effective and impartial investigation into the arbitrary detention of journalist and submit a report to the NHRC within two weeks.
  2. Provide security to the journalist Hemantakumar Ningombam as he stands at further risk of reprisals and submit a report to the NHRC within two weeks.

HRDA further alleged that the security personnel then took him to the Irilbung Police Station and detained him there. “Hemantakumar was taken to the police station in his own vehicle with one police personnel. M. Pradip Singh, SP Imphal East and Themthing Ngasangva, IGP came to meet the editor at the police station. He was detained for around 4 hours at the police station and later released”, said HRDA. Read HRDA complaint here: UA-NE-MANIPUR-HEMANTA_HN

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. HRDA quoted Hemanta as stating “The government claims to be sincere in trying to stop poppy plantations in the State. The government has been claiming to uproot poppy plantations completely for some time. I feel that poppy should have been completely eradicated by now but I feel sad that they are not able to do so till now. I want to appeal to the Government and people that to eradicate poppy plantations, please bow down to two women with full submission, only two women. Government, please bow down to these women in high positions. That’s it! I won’t take the names. I am not saying that they are responsible. But only imploring that the Government should seek their support to solve the problem. Otherwise, the land will be doomed and ask them to love the land. Hon’ble Chief Minister please use any means, witchcraft or sorcery to take help of these two women. Then, and only then, half the problem will be solved. Sending police and thrashing poppy with sticks and posting photos will not solve the problem. Kindly look into the matter. ”

HRDA stated that “the illegal house search and detention of a senior journalist for expressing their opinion on TV is a shocking act of curtailment of the Right to Freedom of Expression”. It reminded that the Indian Constitution gives journalists the right to exercise freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(a) of the Indian Constitution which is crucial to the work of journalists. The right to freedom of expression encompasses three different aspects: 1) the right to hold opinions without interference;

2) the right of access to information; and

3) the right to impart information and ideas of all kind.

HRDA also informed that 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.

“If journalists are muffled up their reporting on facts when they criticise politicians and public officials, seldom will they dare to take a stand and the fourth pillar of democracy will be crushed further. The protection of journalists and human rights defenders, and ending impunity for attacks against them, is a priority for safeguarding freedom of expression. States are under an obligation to prevent, protect against, and prosecute attacks against journalists and human rights defenders. 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”, said HRDA.

This is not the first time the security personnel arrested and detained journalists in the state for expressing his/her opinion against the government. Earlier, there have been numerous cases where many journalists have been arrested and booked under the National Security Act on frivolous charges, alleged HRDA. However, in the present case, it is for suggesting to the Government how to effectively conduct its War on Drugs, said the organisation.

HRDA stated that the act of subjecting a senior journalist to a search without any search memo 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.

Hemantakumar Ningombam also said that the police could have called him in good faith “rather than the heavy-handed approached where he was publicly humiliated in front of the locality as if he is a criminal”. A house search needs a prior notice or search warrant which was not given by the police, said HRDA.

The complaint was forwarded to Indrajeet Kumar, National Focal Point – Human Rights Defenders & Assistant Registrar, National Human Rights Commission, Manav Adhikar Bhawan, Block-C, GPO Complex, INA, New Delhi –110 023.

The version of Manipur Police

The Manipur Police had also stated that it was making all out efforts to effectively execute the Government of Manipur’s policy on War on Drugs “with all earnest to make Manipur a drug free state”. “In this regard, Hemantakumar Ningombam made a very significant statement that has a very significant impact on War on Drugs policy and also could discourage and undermine the moral of the police department in this regard. In order to ascertain the statement, Hemantakumar Ningombam was summoned to police station as per law, said a press note issued by the SP of Imphal East District, Manipur.

When inquired further, it was found out that the police actually wanted to know who the two women/ladies referred to by Hemantakumar in his opinion during the discussion on local cable TV network.

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