Indian journalist detained for calling state leader a Modi ‘puppet’

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At least a dozen people have been arrested across the country this year over social media posts about Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Journalists have been facing increasing pressure since Modi came to power in 2014.

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi attends a presentation of a joint statement with Russian President Vladimir Putin after talks at Hyderabad House in New Delhi, India, on October 5, 2018.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi attends a presentation of a joint statement with Russian President Vladimir Putin after talks at Hyderabad House in New Delhi, India, on October 5, 2018. (Reuters Archive)

An Indian television journalist has been detained for criticising the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government on social media under laws intended to ensure national security, leading to protests in the capital, New Delhi.

Kishorechandra Wangkhem was working for a television channel in the northeastern state of Manipur when he uploaded several video clips last month calling the state’s BJP chief minister, N Biren Singh, a “puppet” of the central government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“It is nothing but a blatant abuse of the law and powers of the government,” Wangkhem’s lawyer, N Victor, said.

Victor said he planned to appeal against his client’s detention, with a hearing likely on Thursday.

India has one of the world’s largest and most diverse media industries, but its journalists often face harassment and violence.

The country is ranked 138th in the World Press Freedom Index run by Reporters Sans Frontières – lower than Zimbabwe, Afghanistan and Myanmar – as a result of censorship laws and the murder of several journalists.

Wangkhem was initially arrested on separate charges of sedition on November 21, before being released on November 25, his wife, Ranjita Elangbam, told Reuters.

He was then detained on November 27 under India’s National Security Act, which allows for detention of up to a year without trial, and has since been held at a jail in the state capital Imphal. A board of judges set up under the Act approved his detention on Thursday.

In the posts, Wangkham criticised the state government for commemorating a north Indian freedom fighter, the Rani of Jhansi, a symbol of resistance against British colonial rule in the mid-1800s, whom he said had nothing to do Manipur’s own struggle against the British.

“Don’t betray, don’t insult the freedom fighters of Manipur,” he said in one of the posts.

Manipur’s deputy home minister Dr Th Charanjeet Singh said in a statement the state had considered the evidence and stood by its decision to detain Wangkhem.

Source: Reuters