“Freedom of Expression in Peril” say Defenders of Free Speech


Pothashang News Service: Imphal, January 20: Journalists, lawyers and human rights activists today came together in a show of strength and solidarity to demand the immediate release of journalist Kishore Chandra Wangkhem, imprisoned under National Security Act (NSA), and dropping of all charges against him.

A meeting on legal defence of defenders “defending freedom of speech and expression” was organised by Human Rights Law Network at Manipur Press Club.

Ahead of the meeting a news conference was held.

Shreeji Bhavsar, Advocate Supreme Court of India said, “The detention of Kishorechandra Wangkhem by the government of Manipur under the draconian colonial-type law, National Security Act 1980 – which has widely been used by all governments for political persecution of their critics and opponents- is a violation of the fundamental right to freedom of expression envisaged under Article 19(1)(a). We strongly protest journalist Kishorechandra’s detention and stand in solidarity with his family.”

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“We are disturbed and isolated,” said Ranjita Elangbam, Kishorechandra’s wife. “There is a huge stigma attached to us because it is a case under NSA. There is also a fear psychosis and people are reluctant to come out openly in support of us lest they are targeted too,” she added.

Tolerance of dissenting views and opinions, however unpalatable they might be, is a sign of a mature democracy. Clamping down on the right to free speech and slapping of disproportionate criminal charges does not bode well for the country in an election year,” said Laxmi Murthy, journalist based in Bangalore.

BablooLoitongbam, Director, Human Rights Alert said, “In detaining Kishorechandra und
draconian NSA for one year soon after he was released on bail by the Chief Judicial Magistrate, the government is not only violating the fundamental right to freedom of expression and undermining rule of law, it is also instilling fear in young Manipuris in speaking against what they perceive as a systematic and diabolic push to distort their history and to ultimately obliterate their distinct identity.”

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“Journalists in India face a wide range of risks, ranging from targeted killings to attacks, assaults and intimidation. Seven journalists have been killed in Manipur, and more disturbingly, the perpetrators have not been brought to justice. Intimidation and clampdown through over use and misuse of law adds to the atmosphere of fear and self-censorship,” said Meihoubam Rakesh, Director, Human Rights Law Network Manipur.

In response to the dire need to respond to the grave and growing challenges to the exercise of the right to freedom of expression and the right to dissent in Manipur, representatives of JSCC. DESAM, AIM, MUSU and MSAD joined in the deliberations at the Press Club today to discuss the setting up of a broad-based network to defend freedom of expression.

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This initiative aims to provide timely and sustained legal defence to those protecting the right to free speech. The Human Rights Law Network with units, in more than 20 states, has already been offering legal aid to journalists in need. We aim to consolidate the effort by linking up lawyers with journalists, bloggers and RTl activists and human rights activists,” said Aditi Saxena, lawyer with the Human Rights Law Network.

The Legal Defence of Defenders Network aims to protect the right to freedom of expression by providing legal defence to those charged for exercising their right to freedom of expression by providing legal defence to journalist whose right to livelihood, equality and liberty have been violated.


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