New Delhi: Two senior journalists of Manipur, Paojel Chaoba and Dhiren Sadokpam, were released on January 18 after the state police kept them in custody overnight.
Chaoba, the executive editor of The Frontier Manipur, an Imphal-based English news portal, was detained for more than 24 hours. Sadokpam, the editor of the portal, was detained on the evening of January 17 after he was summoned to the police station based on an FIR filed by the officer commanding P. Sanjoy Singh of Singjamei police station in Imphal West district.
Soon after their release on January 18, inspector Sanjoy Potsangbam of Sinjamei Police station told The Wire, “They were detained, not arrested. After questioning, we have released them but the case is not closed. So far, we have not been able to trace the author of the article which was published by The Frontier Manipur.”
The inspector said that the editors had given a written statement that it was an oversight that they did not verify the credentials of the article and that such a thing would not happen in future. A copy of that letter was handed to the state’s chief minister N. Biren by a delegation of journalists at his office today. Some members of journalists’ unions had also signed the letter as witnesses.
According to a police statement issued on January 17, the case was filed under Unlawful Atrocities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and Section 124A (sedition) of the IPC against “the editors of the Facebook page of the news portal” along with M. Joy Luwang, writer of the article published in The Frontier Manipur on January 8.
Singh’s FIR mentioned that he spotted the article with the headline ‘Revolutionary Journey in a Mess’ on January 17, 12:30 pm. Soon after, an FIR was filed charging Luwang and the editors of the portal for “attempting to bring hatred/contempt/disaffection against government; criminal conspiracy and statements conducting to public mischief with common intention by being Sympathiser of unlawful organization punishable under 124A/120B/505B/34 of the IPC and section 39 of the UAPA Act.”
However, a police team had reached Chaoba’s residence on the morning of January 17 to pick him up even before the FIR was filed. He refused to accompany them and presented himself at the police station on his own a few hours later, following which he was taken into custody. Curiously, the police refused to clearly state whether he had been arrested or detained for further interrogation.
Interestingly, while the same article had already published in Imphal Times and Kangla Pao, these news publications had not been named in the FIR. While the article was published in Meitelion in Kangla Pao back in October 2020, the same version had been carried by the news portal on January 8 and was published on January 3 in Imphal Times. The Frontier Manipur had received the article through its official email for contributor submissions.
Chaoba and Dhiren’s detention is evocative of the multiple arrests of another Imphal-based journalist Kishorechandra Wangkgem under several draconian laws, including the National Security Act and sedition. A well-known name in the state’s journalistic circles, Chaoba had a number of investigative stories under his byline at the Imphal Free Press – including a report on a Manipur Police officer going on record for the first time about conducting fake encounters of innocent civilians in the insurgency-ridden state – till recently. Dhiren is the former editor-in-chief of the Imphal Free Press.
Recently, the Frontier Manipur reported in detail on the sensational drug haul case involving a person said to be close to Biren Singh. State police officer Thonaujam Brinda had, in a sworn affidavit in the Manipur high court, said that she was under pressure from the chief minister to release the person from custody.
Even though the person, Lukhosei Zou, was arrested by the state police upon the seizure of drugs worth Rs 27 crore from his residence, a special court acquitted him in December last year. Following his acquittal, Brinda had returned the police gallantry medal accorded to her by the chief minister for her credible work in fighting the drug menace in Manipur.