Arrest of an HRD for peaceful protest against drugs and for placards asking an elected representative to resign amounts to criminalisation of dissent and denying citizens the freedom of expression and assembly that is guaranteed under Articles 19(a) and 19(b) of the Indian Constitution, they said
Seeking urgent intervention of National Human Rights Commission(NHRC), three human rights watchdogs have expressed our grave concern over “harassment, ill-treatment, fabricated charges and arbitrary detention” of human rights defender Laishram Herojit Singh alias Shintha by police officials of Thoubal Police Station in Manipur and him being charged under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).
In a letter to CS Mawri, National Focal Point – Human Rights Defenders & Assistant Registrar of NHRC on April 12, HRD Alert-India (HRDA), Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) and Human Rights Alert (HRA) said Shintha is 27 years old and is a human rights defender based in Thoubal District of Manipur.
“He campaigns to end the menace of drugs and alcohol in Manipur. He is the Secretary General of the Coalition Against Drug and Alcohol (CADA), in Thoubal District, which is a respected and established civil society organisation campaigning against the menace of drugs and alcohol abuse in Manipur since its inception in 2006,” they added.
Around 2.00 pm, 18-19 policemen of Thoubal Police Station arrived in three Gypsy vehicles at the house of Shintha. His mother who was present in the house at the time says that the police took him away in a police vehicle without any arrest memo or arrest warrant given to him or the family, they said.
Given the arbitrariness of the arrest and Shintha not allowed to meet his family members and lawyers, “HRDA attempted to call you and when it didn’t hear from you, at 9.54 pm urgent alert messages were sent seeking your urgent intervention with the Superintendent of Police, Thoubal district,” said the letter.
Giving the details of the arrest, the rights groups saidon April 07, 2021, at 10 AM, CADA had organised a protest meeting against the recent acquittal of Loukhosei Zou, Chairman, Autonomous District Council, Moreh, who was arrested along with others in a drug haul case where Rs 28 crore worth of drugs were recovered in 2018.
The protest was jointly organised by CADA and the Ningol Club, which is a civil society organisation of the local women. The protestors displayed placards with slogan “Chief Minister Should Resign”. After the protest, according to Ms. Sofia Khundongbam, President Ningol Club , she received a call from Thoubal SP Sarangthem Ibomcha stating that he was unhappy with the slogan “Chief Minister Should Resign” on the protest placards.
According to him, this has created a “fuss in the high ups” and that his image had been ruined.
An FIR No. 32(4)2021 TBL PS, under Section 39 of the UAPA has been registered against Shintha by the Sub Divisional Police Officer, H Johnny Sharma. The FIR fabricating the arrest states that Shintha was arrested at Wangjing near Canteen Lampak on charge of being an overground worker of a militant group, they said.
Since Shintha was picked up by the police from his residence in the presence of his parents which was also witnessed by the local neighbourhood, it is obvious that a false and fabricated narrative has been made up by the police to arrest an HRD.
On April 8, 2021, at about 10.30 am, he was produced in the court of Chief Judicial Magistrate, Thoubal, and was asked whether he agreed with the police charges calling him a worker of the militant group, which Shintha has categorically denied. He was then remanded to police custody till April 12, 2021.
The rights watchdogs appealed to the NHRC to treat this as a case of reprisal against a human rights defender for exercising his fundamental rights guaranteed through Article 19 of the Indian Constitution.
“Arrest of an HRD for peaceful protest against drugs and for placards asking an elected representative to resign amounts to criminalisation of dissent and denying citizens the freedom of expression and assembly that is guaranteed under Articles 19(a) and 19(b) of the Indian Constitution and international laws which guarantee the right to protest peacefully,” they said.
The arrest of Shintha is another link in the now familiar pattern of HRDs being arrested for critiquing elected representatives in a violation of Freedom of Expression, Association and Assembly, they added.
They urged the Commission to take note of the alleged violations committed by the Manipur Police in the form of registering a complaint based on false charges to implicate a HRD, failing to comply with procedures on arrest as laid down in the DK Basu guidelines by the Honourable Supreme Court of India, and for ill-treatment meted out to Shintha inside the police station.
Seeking urgent action in this case, the rights watchdogs urged the commission to direct the Director General of Police of Manipur to produce within 48 hours all relevant documents pertaining to the arrest of Shintha for an independent examination by it.
They also sought the commission to direct its investigation wing to examine the legality and conduct of Heirok police station for the raids at the residence of Sofia Khundongbam.