U.S. lawyers’ panel slams scribe’s arrest

The U.S.’s primary legal professional association, the American Bar Association (ABA), Center for Human Rights has issued a statement saying India has violated its international treaty obligations in the case of Manipur journalist Kishorchandra Wangkhem, who has been imprisoned in Manipur since November 27, 2018 under the National Security Act.

“A review of court records and Mr. Wangkhem’s statements demonstrate that he is being held in violation of India’s obligations under international law — in particular, India’s obligation to preserve the rights to freedom of expression and freedom from arbitrary detention,” the statement says. He had been held for Facebook videos and posts critical of Manipur CM N. Biren Singh and PM Narendra Modi. The video reportedly called Mr. Singh a “puppet” of Mr Modi and the RSS.

The ABA Center’s assessment is based on a worldwide program that monitors trials “that present a significant risk of injustice”. The ABA has over 411,000 members worldwide, as per its website, and at least 150 members currently resident in India, according to Waris Husain, a staff attorney for the group.

“Police documents, the NSA Arrest Order, and submissions by the government during the habeas corpus proceedings improperly cite legitimate expressions of opinion - Facebook videos in which Mr. Wangkhem cursed and criticized the ruling party - as the predicate for detention. As a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, India is required to protect the right to freedom of expression, including the expression of unpopular opinions,” the Center’s statement read.

The NSA allows for the detention of an individual up to a year without bail for “the maintenance of public order” or if the individual was “acting in a manner prejudicial to the security of the state”.

A police report said that Mr. Wangkhem used "unconstitutional and invective words and with middle finger gesture..." in his posts.

“…although Mr. Wangkhem’s profanity-laced statements may be unpalatable, they pose no threat to national security and therefore do not justify his imprisonment,” the Center said.

Prior to his detention under the NSA, Mr. Wangkhem had been granted bail by a magistrate who had said that while Mr. Wangkhem had used “street language”, his comments were no more than an expression of “opinion against the public conduct of a public figure”.

In December 2018, Mr Wangkhem’s lawyers filed a writ of habeus corpus. A decision from the Manipur High Court on the legality of Mr. Wangkhem’s detention is expected any day.

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Printable version | Jul 30, 2021 7:54:51 AM |

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