Two Manipur Right to Information (RTI) activists, in hiding for more than a year for seeking to know how the funds for a tribal council were spent, have sought the support of the people and the authorities before they are silenced by an extremist group.
In an open letter on Friday, P. Johnson Samo and P.R. Amose said they had been on the run from the local leaders of the Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland, or NSCN (I-M) for seeking information on utilisation of public money allocated by the Centre to the Autonomous District Council in Senapati district since 2015.
Mr. Samo is from Taphou Phyamai village and Mr. Amose from Khabung Khunou, both in Senapati district. Their RTI application followed allegations of misappropriation against the council’s chief executive officer (CEO) and four others.
The duo said two NSCN (I-M) leaders of the region — K.V. Sounii and Puni Mao — issued “orders” asking them to withdraw their RTI applications or face stern action that “amounted to death threat.”
Cadres of the NSCN (I-M) allegedly abducted and tortured another RTI activist, Kh. Enoch, and kept him in captivity until his family was forced to pay a hefty fine and agree not to use RTI. Another RTI activist, Dalounii, and 28 others from Senapati district’s Phuba village were also fined for similar “audacity,” the duo said.
“The tremendous harassment and hardships faced by the RTI activists go beyond threats to their lives. The ways and means for earning their livelihoods have been choked too,” they said, adding that the NSCN (I-M) restricted and stopped contract works of people who have not toed their line.
“We have appealed to some [Poumai and Mao Naga] civil society organisations and human rights organisations to help us but no one has come forward. We are suffering a lot from March 2020 to date. We may be killed but what about our future?” they said.
“The fate of three RTI activists hangs in the balance as neither the State government nor the Centre, or for that matter the police, court or public has no jurisdiction over the two NSCN [I-M] leaders as they are covered by the ceasefire agreement with the Government of India,” the duo said.
Claiming that the council’s CEO Stiff Kapudang and other members are associated with the NSCN (I-M) for siphoning off public money, the duo said they had done no wrong to “deserve such ill-treatment that amounts to death penalty.” They insisted that they were against corrupt officials and practices for the sake of development.
Appealing to “all right-thinking citizens” to spare a thought to why “we are being hunted unceasingly,” Mr. Samo and Mr. Amose sought the government’s help as they could be killed after the COVID-19 restrictions are relaxed.