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‘Was physically assaulted in prison,’ says activist booked under NSA for ‘cow dung’ post

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New Delhi: On July 20, the Supreme Court requested a response from the government of Manipur in a key case seeking compensation for wrongful detention under the National Security Act (NSA).

Charged under the NSA on May 17 and in jail since then for declaring on social media that cow urine and cow dung were not a cure for COVID-19 after the death of BJP state president Professor S. Tikendra Singh due to the virus , based on Imphal political activist Erendro Leichhombam had – through his father L. Raghumani Singh – moved the highest court to seek relief.

The state government had appealed to the NSA on Erendro shortly after a local court released him on bail.

More than two months later, on July 19, the two-judge bench headed by Judge DY Chandrachud ordered the immediate release of Erendro from prison. Since the petition also sought compensation for wrongful detention under the NSA, the court, which heard the case on July 20, has notified the BJP-led government of Manipur to respond to the matter within two weeks.

Imphal-based journalist Kishorechandra Wangkhem was also arrested on May 13 along with Erendro for a similar comment on social media, later charged under the NSA and in custody. He too was released on bail on May 17 by a local court.

Following the July 19 Supreme Court order, Kishorechandra’s wife Ranjita Elangbam wrote to the state government to release him and also withdraw the NSA against him. In the letter written to Secretary of State Rajesh Kumar on July 20, Ranjita argued that her husband would also be released and that the NSA would also be dropped in his case, as the charges against him were the same as those against Erendro.

The wire spoke to Erendro whose life had changed dramatically since he wrote on Facebook: “The cure for Corona is not cow dung and cow urine. The cure is science and common sense. Professor ji RIP.”

Excerpts from the interview:

Can you describe for? The wireUnder what circumstances were you arrested by the Manipur Police on May 13?

The police raided our home on May 13 around 8:30 PM. By then I was retired for the night. Within an hour of posting my response on Facebook, Manipur police nearly knocked down the front door of our home in Imphal and ran to the fourth floor, into my bedroom and dragged me out…all while abusing them to me fapping.

They didn’t have an arrest warrant. My mother tried to intervene and said, “If you want to arrest him, do it, but make him dress decently.”

I was in my nightwear. They pushed my mother forcibly; she fell down, injured her upper chest. I think there’s evidence for that too. I was towed in a police vehicle and taken to the Imphal West Police Station. The police action showed that there was enormous pressure on them from above.

What happened at the police station?

Well, we reached the Imphal West Police Station a little after 9pm. Within five minutes of arriving there, journalist Kishorechandra Wangkhem was also brought in. The police used abusive language against us, the kind I’ve never heard in my life.

They asked me for my phone, I gave it, then they wanted to know the password; I refused to give it and told them I would be happy to cooperate and open the phone for them to see what they want to see but I wouldn’t give them the password as I have a lot of sensitive private information stored in it.

Upon my refusal, they took me to the OC’s room. In the presence of three or four police officers, the OC of Imphal West District, N. Ingocha Singh, started beating me with a stick.

I kept calm; didn’t give up. I told him I would not share my phone password. I told him the law doesn’t allow him to beat me like that. Ingocha Singh also took advantage of the nastiest abuses, but gave up after some time. Kishorechandra and I were then thrown into confinement.

I asked the OC for the arrest memo; That was not shown to me. They didn’t show it until my parents showed up at the police station the next morning.

Journalist Kishorechandra Wangkhem. Photo: Facebook

When Kishorechandra and I were thrown into confinement, a guard there said one person was infected with COVID-19. Hearing that, I protested and asked for our isolation, that the COVID-19 protocol was not being violated and that we should be tested before being put in jail. They haven’t done anything like that.

The next day we were introduced to the court of the magistrate on duty.

For our readers, can you remember what happened to the magistrate on duty?

The magistrate on duty that day was Moirangthem Heeralata. I told her that I had been physically assaulted by the OC at the police station, which the police officer present in court denied. I told her I could show her the bruises. She reprimanded the officer for it, but sent both Kishorechandra and me to four days’ detention.

We were not allowed to sleep for those four days; they kept asking us something; reading statements after statements written on our behalf full of things we didn’t say. There was no case against us; so my hunch is by including things we didn’t say they were desperately trying to build a case against both of us.

After four days, when we were presented before Imphal West Court Chief Judge (CJM) Y. Somojit Singh, the government lawyer Jamuna tried to push those fabricated statements to keep us in custody, but the CJM granted bail to Kishorechandra and me .

However, before our lawyer could prepare the necessary paperwork to obtain our release, the government imposed the National Security Act (NSA) on us, forcing the magistrate to authorize our detention.

Both you and Kishorechandra have been sent to Sajjwa prison on the outskirts of Imphal…

Yes. For almost a month we were both kept in the same room, but were later separated. We barely met in prison after that.

I just hope that the July 19 Supreme Court ruling in my case also helps Kishorechandra to get out of jail in this bogus case as the charges against him are the same.

Your petition through your father to the Supreme Court also sought damages from the state for wrongful detention under the NSA. Why did you think to go one step further than just release from prison and destroy the NSA that had been brought against you?

The key word behind that decision is ‘responsibility’. The current Manipur government needs to learn that they can’t put anyone in jail simply because they don’t like that person. It cannot abuse its constitutional powers.

Aside from that primary reason, it’s also because if you send people to jail over and over, it becomes an expensive affair for the person. Fighting a case requires a lot of financial resources, even if it is a fake case. The state knows that certain cases would not go to court, like my case, but it still does, because not only the mental and physical strength of the person is exhausted, but also the financial strength.

In my case, the government used a clever tactic. Shortly after my Supreme Court release came on July 19, the government overturned the NSA against me. During the July 20 hearing, Attorney General of India Tushar Mehta told the Supreme Court that I had been released and that the government had revoked the NSA and therefore the court should let the case rest. Our counsel Shadan Farasat argued that the issue of damages was already in the original petition. The Supreme Court court said it is a serious matter and that one’s liberty has been lost and has therefore sent a message to the government of Manipur to respond to my illegal detention within two weeks.

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for August 6.

You are also part of a political party, the People’s Resurgence and Justice Alliance (PRJA). You had contested the last election of 2017 as a candidate. Do you see this act and several other cases against you over a period of time by the BJP-led government as an attack on a political opponent?

Sure, that’s it. It is a blatant example of political persecution by misusing the constitutional powers of the government.

An attempt has also been made to take my livelihood from me. I am a graduate of the prestigious Harvard Kennedy School; I returned to my state to give something of value back to our people and started running a vocational training school for girls in Imphal.

We had an enrollment of 140 students in various courses such as spoken English, computer training, etc. We also provided them with vacancies. The program was partly funded by the Union Ministry of Rural Development.

In February of this year, the state police closed my school, claiming that I have been charged with misusing the central government’s funds. All my equipment has been confiscated. I am now fighting a case in the lower court against that charge.

I see blatantly vindictive politics at play here.

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