New Delhi: Kishorechandra Wangkhem, the Manipur-based journalist jailed since November 27 under the National Security Act (NSA), has taken seriously ill and is being treated at the government-owned Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences (JIMS) at Imphal.
The journalist has been jailed for criticising Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the state chief minister N. Biren Singh on social media.
His wife, Ranjita Elangbam told The Wire, “He was brought to JIMS on March 20. I got to know from Kishorechandra’s lawyer who was informed by the jail authorities that he was unwell and they would be consulting doctors outside the jail on that day. By the time I reached the hospital with my brother, already his blood test, etc. had been completed and he was at the dietician’s cabin.”
Elangbam added that “The security arrangement was tight at the hospital. Since it was the day when Congress president Rahul Gandhi was visiting Imphal, I initially thought the arrangement was for it. Maybe Gandhi was visiting the hospital. Later, I got to realise it was for Kishorechandra. There were at least 20 security personnel guarding the area and I and my brother were not allowed to meet him.”
Though her brother took a photograph of Kishorechandra being taken to the jail van, the security personnel “forced him to delete it.”
“He took the photo because he was shocked to see the sudden huge weight loss in him. We also wanted to click a photo of the prescription just to know what was his ailment but were told to take it only from the jailer. We learnt from the hospital that his sugar level was very high at 543 after the meal and therefore, the doctors wanted a special diet for him,” she said from Imphal.
Elangbam also said: “I hurried to meet the officer accompanying him. Though the required diet instructions were given to him by the hospital authorities, he told me that he was not sure whether the jail authorities would be able to provide it to him. So far, we are also not given permission to provide him with the prescribed meal and this is making me extremely worried about his health condition.”
On the evening of March 21, Kishorechandra’s advocate was contacted by the jail authorities and sent a list of medicines that the family needed to send for the incarcerated journalist. “My brother has gone to the Sajiwa Central Jail (situated in the outskirts of Imphal) with the medicine today. I hope his medication begins today itself,” she told The Wire on the morning of March 22.
On March 12, when Elangbam had a scheduled meeting with her husband – she is allowed to meet him only after completion of 15 days from the last meeting as per the NSA – he complained of blurred vision.
“Though he is not diabetic, he has a family history of the ailment. Being a nurse myself, I at once felt it could be due to his rising sugar level, so told him to get his blood and sugar tests done inside the jail. I also went to the jail the next day to give a glucometer to the medical department of the jail in order to get his test done. A few days later, when I went to inquire about it, the officer at the department denied receiving it,” she said.
“I can ask him about it only when I am scheduled to meet him on March 26-27,” she added.
The Wire tried contacting the jail authorities for more details on Kishorechandra’s health condition but has so far been unsuccessful.
Prior to the state government charging Kishorechandra with the draconian law on November 27, he was arrested by the Imphal West Police on November 21 under sections 294 and 500 of the IPC besides 124A (sedition). He was taken into custody for uploading a video on YouTube in which he severely castigated Modi and the Biren Singh-led BJP government in the state in Meitei language for organising a function to commemorate the Rani of Jhansi’s fight against the British and connecting it to the freedom movement of Manipur. The video went viral on social media.
Though a local court freed him on bail on November 26 and set aside the charges of sedition against him, within 24 hours of his release, he was re-arrested under the NSA, which entails a maximum jail term of one year. The board set up under the NSA to look into the case approved his one-year jail term this in December.
Kishorechandra challenged the order in the Manipur high court, but so far, the arguments for and against it have been completed and the court’s final order is awaited. The court hasn’t yet fixed a date for it.
The state government has been widely criticised both inside and outside Manipur for arresting Kishorechandra under the NSA only for condemning the prime minister and the chief minister, their party and their ideological fount, the RSS.
On January 3, the United Nations’ Mandates of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression wrote a letter to the Indian government expressing “serious concern” at his arrest and detention.
The letter said, “We are concerned at the criminalization of the peaceful exercise of freedom of expression through the use of the National Security Act, which is a broad and unspecific state security legislation, may have a chilling effect on public debate in India, including on the work of journalists.”
Soon after Kishorechandra was arrested under the NSA, his employer, ISTV, sacked him from his job.