Thank you for standing up for journalists’ rights

By FrontierManipur | Published On 22nd Jan, 2021, 10:59 GMT+0530

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The Frontier Manipur stands its ground. The team strongly condemns the blatant misuse of the most stringent provisions of law against journalists and will not succumb to such armed-twisting tactics adopted by the state.

The detention of TFM editors

On January 17, Paojel Chaoba and Dhiren A Sadokpam, the Executive Editor and Editor-in-Chief of The Frontier Manipur (TFM) were detained and arrested by Singjamei police in connection with the publication of an article headlined “Revolutionary journey in a mess” authored by one M Joy Luwang, Singjamei on the TFM web portal. The two were arrested based on an FIR filed under Unlawful Atrocities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and Section 124A (sedition) of the IPC. They were released the next day.

 TFM stands its ground

The Frontier Manipur stands its ground firmly. The article in question has nothing to do with supporting or sympathizing or endorsing the armed movements in Manipur. Instead, it is a deep analysis or penetrative reflection of what the author considers as reasons for the downfall of the armed movement in Manipur which has reached its nadir in recent decades. The TFM team strongly believes that the article was an in-depth analysis that sheds light on the issues/factors that scripted the decline of what was once considered a popular movement.

TFM was caught off guard when hit by such a reaction from the state government. TFM team never expected that publication of this opinion piece would attract such extremely stringent provisions of law. Invoking such stringent provisions including UAPA for the mere publication of an opinion piece is a direct assault on the freedom of speech. The team strongly condemns the blatant misuse of the most stringent provisions of law against journalists and will not succumb to such armed-twisting tactics adopted by the state. However, it does not mean TFM will not exercise its discretion in choosing the content for public consumption.

The author of the article, M Joy Luwang, has written for some registered popular newspapers in Manipur. TFM had published the article authored by him as forwarded based on its merit which is consumable by the public. The same article was already published by at least two newspapers. It is also a common practice in most of the newspapers in Manipur that an opinion piece is published based on merit, not based on the credentials of the author. However, selective action of the state government against TFM for publication of an opinion by the author, who occasionally contributes for other newspapers, shows that there is an unmistakable larger conspiracy to target the news portal whose leadership is committed to honestly and fearlessly raising the issues of public interests.

Gratitude and appreciation

TFM is extremely grateful to the national and international media fraternity for standing by TFM in these times of extreme repression on freedom of expression which has become a global phenomenon. We also thank some Manipur based We also take this opportunity to thank all our well-wishers and friends who have not only expressed shock but also condemned the repressive act. We salute you all for the courageous reactions.

News Media Review

The outrage was instant from other mainstream news media

Soon after the news of the arrest of editors of The Frontier Manipur broke out, the outrage was instant from other mainstream newspapers though the response was tepid from our state fraternity. The team Frontier Manipur had a harrowing time till midnight, responding to queries of journalists from other states. We sent them a link to the article that the state government found objectionable and booked the editors of the frontier Manipur under sedition and UAPA.

The reported that ‘Frontier Manipur’ editors were booked for sedition, under UAPA for article against state’s armed groups.

The report said, “The piece is a critical indictment of Manipur’s many armed groups who have waged an armed secessionist movement since the 1960s. In the article, Luwang accused the groups of “falling prey to the Indian government’s design of breaking their backbones” and not living up to the “revolutionary” ideals they were formed with.”

The Wire reported that “In yet another case of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Manipur government rounding up journalists in the state under draconian laws, two senior journalists Paojel Chaoba and Dhiren Sadokpam have been detained on Sunday.”

The report further

said, “Interestingly, though the same article was published earlier in Imphal Times and Kangla Pao, these news publications have not been named in the FIR. While the article in Kangla Pao was published in Meitelion in October 2020, the same report was published in Imphal Times on January 3.”

ThePrint said media in Manipur is becoming “less and less free”.

The Indian Express reported that two editors of a Manipuri news portal were Sunday arrested on sedition and terror-related charges under the IPC and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act over the publication of an article criticising the state’s militancy movement.

The report also said, “There have been multiple cases in Manipur against those seen as speaking against the ruling dispensation.”

Quoting The Indian Express’ report, the Outlook reported that two editors of a Manipur-based news portal—The Frontier Manipur have been arrested and charged under Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) over the publication of one article that criticised the state’s militancy movement.

In its report under the headline “Two Manipur Journalists Arrested Under UAPA for Article Criticising State’s Militancy Movement”, News18 said, this is not the first time as several other cases of arrests have been reported from the land of Manipur.

The Federal reported, “The article critiques the armed revolutionary groups and civil societies in Manipur, highlighting their mistakes during 1990 to 2008. M Joy Luwang, its author, has indicted armed groups in the state for meddling in the government’s recruitment process and functioning like profit-driven companies by getting involved in contract and supply works.”

It said, “The article originally appeared in a serialised form in Manipuri and was published in Kangla Pao, a vernacular local daily, in October last year. The English version was later published in Imphal Times, an eveninger, on January 2.”

It also said, “In the last three years, the BJP government in Manipur has arrested several individuals under the charge of sedition, including journalists, students and professors, for voicing their opinion against it.”

The Telegraph online reported, “Singjamei police in Manipur’s Imphal West district had registered a suo motu case against the portal’s editor-in-chief, Sadokpam Dhiren, executive editor Aribam Paojel Chaoba, and M. Joy Luwang for an article, “Revolutionary Journey in a Mess”.”

“The article, written by Luwang and published on the portal on January 8, was a criticism of the state’s armed groups and had also issued a call to “work with togetherness” to streamline the “revolution”.” It added.

In its report “Two journalists in Manipur booked under UAPA have written to state police article published in a local news portal ‘unverified’”, the Economic Times said, “The news website on January 8 published an article- “Revolutionary Journey In A Mess” by M Joy Luwang -that criticises Manipur’s ‘armed revolutionary groups’ for straying from the ‘revolutionary cause’.”

The Hindustan Times said the Manipur police claimed that the article openly endorsed revolutionary ideologies and activities.

The Ukhrul Times also reported the development including the condemnation issued by the editors.  

Some online media and digital news also shared their coverage. However, they got it wrong on informing that the statement or the so called undertaking was signed by the two editors. In fact, the written statement was signed only by Paojel Chaoba.

Three major newspapers in Manipur, the Sangai Express, the Poknapham and The Imphal Free Press did not cover the development at all for reasons best known to these organisations. However, TFM expresses gratitude to other media organisations who stood by their correct notion on the spirit of journalism. We thank Naharolgi Thoudang, Hueiyen Lanpao, Ichel Express, Sanaleibak, Ereibak, English daily The Morning Bell and other reporters/correspondent who were responsible enough to report the news to their respective organisations.

Outcry from media communities

The very next day, an outcry erupted from media communities in India against the arrest of editors of the frontier Manipur. Condemning the state government’s action, they demanded unconditional release by dropping the stringent charges against the journalists. Foundation for Media Professionals (FMP), Editors Guild of India (EGI) and DIGIPUB News India Foundation, International Press Institute (IPI) amongst others issued statements condemning the detention of the two TFM editors.

The Committee For the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) said that it texted a Manipur government spokesperson for comment, but did not receive any response.

 In its statement, The Editors Guild of India said it considers the recent arrest of a writer and two editors of Manipur website The Frontier Manipur under the Indian Penal Code applicable to sedition and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) as a “brazen violation of every constitutional safeguard given for freedom of expression.”

“EGI believes that till the police is not nuanced in fundamental rights and various Supreme Court judgments on the imperative to protect freedom, no media organisation is safe from the irrational use of these laws,” it said.

The Foundation for Media Professionals (FMP) issued a statement condemning the detention by Manipur Police of Editor-in-Chief Sadokpam Dhiren and Executive Editor Paojel Chaoba of TFM under extremely stringent provisions of law for the publication of an opinion piece.

“The article in question is largely a critique of militant groups in Manipur, tracing what its author believes are the historical causes of their decline. The existence of such groups in the past, and of their journey, is well known to all in Manipur,” it said.

The history of Northeast India is replete with examples of leaders of armed insurgent outfits who subsequently became ministers, heads of territorial councils, members of parliament and chief ministers.

They were not charged with sedition or terrorism. Arriving at political settlements remains the policy of the Government of India, which is currently engaged in talks, as it has been for years, with leaders of groups from the region that have literally waged war against the state, and continue to discuss separate flags and constitutions, it said.

It is therefore odd that mere publication of an OpEd article on some such groups should draw extreme charges upon editors,” it said.

In its statement condemning the arrest of the Manipur journalists, DIGIPUB News India Foundation said, “This action by the police is against the right to freedom of expression guaranteed to journalists — and indeed every citizen of India — under the Constitution.

Arresting journalists for expressing their opinions is an attack on the free press. Political analysis and editorial writing are a part of a journalist’s work, not an act of terror, it said

“DIGIPUB News India Foundation strongly believes that the UAPA and Sedition laws should not be used to counter journalistic writings and pursuits,” it added.

The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, also condemned the detention of Indian journalists Dhiren Sadokpam and Paojel Chaoba and demanded that charges against them be dropped.

“While we welcome the release of Dhiren Sadokpam and Paojel Chaoba, we urge authorities to drop charges against them”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “We remain concerned by the growing use of criminal law in India to target journalists for their reporting and opinion.”

RSF and IAM Council took to twitter to condemn the arrest of editors of TFM.

Netizens also used social media platforms, sharing the news and their opinions. Senior Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan wrote on his Facebook page: “Sedition, UAPA, ED & NIA are being grossly abused to harass & intimidate dissenters, activists, Journalists. This government is hell bent on destroying all elements of democracy“.

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