Rights activists and NGOs in Manipur have written to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) seeking its intervention to end the alleged harassment, arbitrary arrest and detention of rights defenders.
There had been a “spree” of such action against these people in the State for exercising their right to freedom of expression on the crisis triggered by the lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they said in the letter to the NHRC chairperson.
The organisations include the Civil Society Coalition for Human Rights (CSCHR); Human Rights Alert, Committee on Human Rights; Extrajudicial Execution Victims Family Association, Manipur; and the All Manipur Nupi Maanbi Association representing the transgender community.
The organisations cited the example of Laifungbam Debabrata Roy, a senior public health physician and president of the Centre for Organisation, Research and Education, which is one of the constituent members of CSCHR.
“On April 3 at around 6 p.m., a team of Imphal West police came to Dr. Roy’s residence in the Yaiskul locality and summoned him to the police station in connection with a Facebook post. As soon as he reached the police station, he was sent to the lock-up. No arrest memo was issued nor an FIR registered, and he was reportedly asked to make a public apology on social and mainstream media,” said Phulindro Konsam, co-convenor of CSCHR.
Dr. Roy had in his post asked Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren Singh to “desist from wasting State resources, time and personnel in carrying out any personal and political agenda or vendetta” at “this time of crisis”.
The post was in reference to the Imphal East police picking up T. Shadishkanta, secretary of Youth’s Forum for Protection of Human Rights, on the night of April 1 without any arrest warrant, the rights groups said.
An FIR was filed against Mr. Shadishkanta in connection with a press statement his forum had issued. In the statement, the forum had appealed for shifting the location for the construction of a quarantine centre on a paddy field as it would the right to food and food sovereignty of farmers.
Mr. Shadishkanta was pressured to produce the forum’s president Phajaton, who had signed the statement. An FIR was lodged against Mr. Phajaton after he reported to the police station concerned the following afternoon. The two forum leaders were later released on bail.
A 40-year-old man named Konsam Victor Singh was also detained on April 1 after he asked on Facebook whether anybody knew how much the Chief Minister had contributed to the CM’s COVID-19 Relief Fund. He was released after he had deleted the post and was forced to issue a public apology, the rights groups said.
“...at this juncture where the government is trying to work closely with the civil society to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, such high-handed and irresponsible act of the state will only polarise society thereby hindering the collective effort,” the rights groups said.
They appealed to the NHRC to direct the Director-General of Police to stop “harassing the human rights defenders” and revoke all the FIRs registered in connection with the exercising of the right to freedom of expression by human rights defenders.