A. Mobi Singh, editor of the Sanaleibak newspaper, has been arrested by police commandos posing as representatives of a banned organisation.
The All-Manipur Working Journalists' Union said in a statement that Mr. Singh received a call from someone claiming to be a member of the banned armed group, the Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP), on December 28. He wanted to set up a meeting with three members of the union, of which Mr. Singh is the spokesman and vice-president, to discuss issues relating to the publication of KCP's statements.
When the supposed KCP member said that the meeting would be held in New Delhi, Mr. Singh said that the union had no fund for such travels. The agent then offered to foot the bill and said would he send the required funds.
“The next morning two Manipur police commandos in civilian dress came to his office on Sega Road in a rickshaw and asked him to collect the money. When he came near the duo, he was manhandled and taken to custody,” said the statement.
“He tried to fight them off thinking them to be insurgents, but later they identified themselves as police commandos.” The statement also alleges that the police “seized” Rs.50,000 which they brought with them, and Rs.2,000 from Mr. Singh. He was then charged with being a member of the outfit and a case was registered.
Journalists in the State say that he was arrested on “fabricated charge” – he was a member of the banned group. The case brings out the fact that journalists face threats from both sides. While underground groups resort to violence to force the media to publish their statements, the government is targeting the media for its role in exposing a fake encounter, says the union.
Manipur newspapers have been facing severe pressure – including bomb threats, editors being held hostage and offices being ransacked – by underground groups who want their propaganda material published.
The union has been talking to such groups to convince them of the need for a free press in a democratic set-up.
‘Failure of the government'
The union says that it has been constrained to negotiate with banned outfits against the forced publication of their propaganda because of “the failure of the State government to provide us a free and secured environment.”
For example, a KCP group had held six editors hostage in order to force the entire Imphal press to carry their statement. Another KCP group had ransacked Mr. Singh's office. After newspapers refused to publish certain stories in 2008, a banned group had placed a bomb in the office of the Sangai Express.
The statement blames the government and police for not taking action in any of these cases. “We believe the media in Manipur is being targeted by the State police for its apparent role in exposing the alleged fake encounter at BT Road on July 23, 2009, which is under CBI investigation and involved several police officers,” said the statement.
A memorandum to the Union Home Minister urging action against the murder of an Imphal journalist was also being held against them.