April 20, 2000
His Excellency Wahengbam Nipamacha Singh
Chief Minister, Manipur
Chief Minister's Bungalow
Imphal 795 001
VIA FACSIMILE: +91-385-221-394
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply disturbed by the imprisonment of Nongthonbam Biren, chief editor of the Manipuri-language daily Naharolgi Thoudang, and Thounaojam Iboyaima, the author of a speech recently published in the newspaper.
Biren and Iboyaima were arrested on April 14 in Imphal, the capital of Manipur State, and detained overnight. They appeared before Judge Gomati Devi, chief justice of Imphal West District, on April 15, and were charged under sections 121, 121-A, and 124-A of the Indian Penal Code. Section 124-A says that "Whoever by words, either spoken or written . . . attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government" may be sentenced to life imprisonment.
Iboyaima delivered his speech on April 9, citing United Nations declarations in support of the argument that "armed rebellion may be a last resort against colonial oppression," according to a report circulated by the Imphal-based Centre for Organisation, Research, and Education.
Judge Devi said that the speech, "according to the prosecution, gave some sort of encouragement to . . . underground, unlawful organizations." A number of insurgent groups operate in Manipur, and are fighting against Indian rule.
Biren and Iboyaima were remanded to judicial custody and are being held at Sajiwa Jail in Imphal. They are scheduled to stand trial on April 29.
Newspaper coverage of speeches airing controversial views is essential to sustaining a healthy democracy. As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of our colleagues around the world, CPJ has serious doubts about the constitutionality of the statutes under which Biren and Iboyaima have been charged, and is alarmed by the Manipur authorities' apparent disregard for freedom of expression and of the press.
CPJ believes that no journalist should ever be imprisoned for what he or she writes or publishes. We think it incumbent on Your Excellency, as the chief elected official in Manipur, to ensure that justice is done in this case. CPJ urges you to use your best offices to ensure that the charges against Biren and Iboyaima are dropped, and that the two men are released immediately.
We thank you for your attention to this urgent matter, and await your response. Sincerely,
Ann K. Cooper