GUWAHATI: An Indian television journalist has been detained for criticizing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government on social media under laws intended to ensure national security, leading to protests in the capital, New Delhi. Kishore chandra 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, told Reuters by telephone. Victor said he planned to appeal against his client’s detention, with a hearing likely today. 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 Frontieres – 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 Nov 21, before being released on Nov 25, his wife, Ranjita Elangbam, told Reuters. He was then detained on Nov 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 last Thursday.
In the posts, Wangkham criticized 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, who 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 Charanjeet Singh said in a statement the state had considered the evidence and stood by its decision to detain Wangkhem.
Several Indian journalist unions have condemned his arrest and demanded his release. At least a dozen people have been arrested across the country this year over similar social media posts against Modi. Last month a teacher was arrested in the neighboring state of Assam after he compared Modi to a “dog”. Divya Spandana, social media chief for the main Congress opposition party, was charged with sedition in September. She had tweeted a meme that showed an altered image of Modi’s wax statue with a placard emblazoned with “thief”. Many journalists have faced increased harassment or even violence since Modi came to power in 2014. – Agencies