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New Delhi: Journalist Kishorechandra Wangkhem, charged under the National Security Act (NSA) by the BJP-led Manipur government this past May for commenting on social media that cow dung and cow urine don’t cure COVID-19, has been released from jail this evening.
Wangkhem’s release came four days after the Supreme Court ordered the immediate release of Imphal-based political activist Erendro Leichombam, who was also arrested by the Manipur Police on the same day – May 13 – as Wangkhem on the same charges. The duo had on May 17 got bail from a local court, but they were detained again after the NSA was slapped on them.
Getting out of the Saajwa central jail around 4 pm, Wangkhem told waiting reporters, “I am used to this now. While waiting for justice, I tried to spend two months of my incarceration by having meaningful discussions with various inmates; took their opinion on several issues.”
When asked about Erendro Leichombam seeking compensation for wrongful detention under NSA, he told the Frontier Manipur news website, “First time when NSA was used on me, and the Manipur high court freed me of all charges, I thought the state government learnt its lesson but now realised it didn’t. So, I am also thinking of filing a petition seeking compensation.”
Since May 17, both had been lodged at the Sajjwa central jail on the outskirts of Imphal. A day after the SC order, the Manipur government also revoked the NSA brought against Leichombam.
On July 22, Wangkhem’s wife Ranjita Elengbam moved a letter petition to the Manipur high court Chief Justice Sanjay Kumar. She sought the journalist’s immediate release, saying he was also charged under similar charges as Leichombam.
In an unusual move, Chief Justice Kumar, on July 23, listed the matter for hearing. Highlighting the SC’s May 19 judgment, the two-judge bench led by the Chief Justice stated:
“On the face of it, we find no distinction or difference between the case of the petitioner’s husband and that of Erendro Leichombam. Both of them put up similar Facebook posts, critical of the utility of cow dung and cow urine in treating coronavirus. As they stand identically situated, we are of the opinion that the continued incarceration of the petitioner’s husband would be as much a violation of Article 21 of the Constitution, as it was in the case of Erendro Leichombam.”
The court order also said, “Though this Court would normally order notice in a petition for a writ of Habeas Corpus, in the first instance, making it returnable within 48 hours, and thereafter take up the matter on the fourth working day after issuance of such notice, in terms of Rule II of the High Court of Manipur Case Management Rules, 2019, we find no reason to abide by such procedure in the case on hand as it is squarely covered by the observations made by the Supreme Court in the case of an identically situated person.”
The court passed an interim order for his release from jail by 5 pm on July 23 on furnishing a personal release bond of a sum of Rs 1,000.
The court said the Manipur government’s May 17 order revoking NSA on him “stands suspended” till the next date of hearing.
Reacting to the high court order, Wangkhem’s lawyer Victor Chongtham said, “It was purely a question about the rule of law and the Manipur high court today invoked it.”
The next date of hearing has been set for August 24.
Wangkhem has repeatedly been targeted by the BJP government in Manipur. This began around the time he uploaded a video on social media in 2018 which was severely critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Manipur chief minister Biren Singh and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.