Authorities in the Indian state of Manipur should drop their investigations into The Frontier Manipur and its editors, Sadokpam Dhiren and Paojel Chaoba, and allow them to work freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said.
On January 17, police in Imphal, the Manipur state capital, summoned and detained Dhiren and Chaoba, interrogated them, and released them the following day, according to Chaoba, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview, K. Meghachandra Singh, the police superintendent who oversaw their case and spoke to CPJ via messaging app, and multiple news reports.
Police accused the journalists of sedition and criminal conspiracy under the Indian penal code and supporting terrorist organizations under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, according to those sources, and also revoked Chaoba’s government press credential.
If charged and convicted of sedition, the editors could face up to life in prison; conspiracy is punishable by up to six months’ imprisonment, and supporting a terrorist organization by up to 10 years, according to those laws.
“It is ludicrous that authorities in the Indian state of Manipur are accusing editors Sadokpam Dhiren and Paojel Chaoba of committing sedition and acts of terror just for publishing an article. This is a clear attempt at intimidation and controlling what the media reports,” said Aliya Iftikhar, CPJ’s senior Asia researcher. “Authorities should immediately drop the investigation into Chaoba and Dhiren and allow them to work freely.”
Authorities arrested the editors in relation to a January 8 article in The Frontier Manipur, a current affairs news website, entitled “Revolutionary Journey In a Mess,” according to a complaint filed by police, which CPJ reviewed, and news reports.
The author of the article, M. Joy Luwang, is also being investigated, but has not been found or arrested, according to The Wire. CPJ was unable to find contact information for Luwang.
The police complaint alleges that the article “openly endorsed revolutionary ideologies and activities” and “clearly expressed sympathy and support to the ideologies and activities of the armed revolutionary groups,” in reference to separatist groups operating in the state.
Chaoba told CPJ that he did not believe the article was seditious, and said that the same piece was also published in two other publications, Imphal Times and Kangla Pao, which were not named in the police complaint.
During their detention, Chaoba and Dhiren wrote a letter to Singh, the superintendent of police of Imphal West station, vowing to better scrutinize such political articles in the future, as well as the backgrounds of those who write them, according to Chaoba and The Wire.
Chaoba said that his detention exceeded 24 hours, violating a law requiring suspects to be presented before a magistrate within that time. According to The Wire, Dhiren was released within that time limit.
CPJ texted a Manipur government spokesperson for comment, but did not receive any response. Singh confirmed that the editors had been released but declined to answer further questions from CPJ.