Imphal: Human rights agencies have sought the intervention of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) over the “misuse of law and non-compliance with mandatory procedures” by Manipur Police and falsely implicating human rights defender Shintha Laishram in a case under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).
In a letter to CS Mawri, national focal point – human rights defenders and assistant registrar of NHRC, HRD Alert-India (HRDA), Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) and Human Rights Alert (HRA) stated that on April 7, a team of Thoubal Police arrested Laishram Herojit Singh alias Shintha, 27, the general secretary of the Coalition Against Drugs and Alcohol (CADA), from his residence without any arrest memo or warrant.
The CADA leader was charged under the UAPA for organising a protest meeting against the recent acquittal of Lukhosei Zou, the then chairman of Moreh Autonomous District Council (ADC), who was arrested along with seven others, in a drug haul case with several crores worth of drugs being recovered from his official residence in 2018.
Meanwhile, CADA leader Shintha was produced before the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Thoubal on Monday and was released on bail of Rs 1 lakh and surety of the same amount on the condition that he shall report for interrogation as and when required.
Besides the harassment, ill-treatment and arbitrary detention, the rights watchdogs also alleged that the charge against the human rights defender, who campaigns to end the menace of drugs and alcohol abuse in Manipur, was fabricated. The case was registered by Sub-Divisional Police Officer H Johnny Sharma, according to the human rights watchdogs.
The FIR fabricating the arrest states that Shintha was arrested at Wangjing near Canteen Lampak on charges of being an overground worker of the United National Liberation Front (UNLF), a militant group, they said.
Since Shintha was picked up by the police from his residence in the presence of his parents, which was also witnessed by the neighbours, it is obvious that a false and fabricated narrative has been made up by the police to arrest an human rights defender, the rights groups argue.
Given the arbitrariness of the arrest, Shintha was not even allowed to meet his family members and lawyers, alleged the rights agencies.
They further stated that inside the Thoubal Police Station, Shintha was allegedly slapped by Inspector Tiken for not signing the arrest memo. Shintha refused to sign the arrest memo because it stated that he worked with militant groups, a charge he categorically denies.
On April 12, when Shintha was produced in the court of CJM, Thoubal, he was asked whether he agreed with the police charges calling him a worker of the militant group, which the human rights defender has categorically denied. He was then remanded to police custody till April 12, 2021, they said.
While appealing to the NHRC to treat this as a case of reprisal against a human rights defender for exercising his fundamental rights guaranteed through Article 19 of the Indian Constitution, the rights agencies also urged the commission to take cognizance of the alleged violations committed by the Manipur Police in the form of registering a complaint based on false charges to implicate a human rights defender, failing to comply with procedures on arrest as laid down in the DK Basu guidelines by the Supreme Court of India, and for ill-treatment meted out to Shintha inside the police station.
As per the statement, the arrest of an human rights defender for peaceful protest against drugs and for placards asking an elected representative to resign amounts to criminalisation of dissent and denying citizens the freedom of expression and assembly that is guaranteed under Articles 19(a) and 19(b) of the Indian Constitution and international laws which guarantee the right to protest peacefully.
The arrest of Shintha is another link in the now-familiar pattern of human rights defenders being arrested for critiquing elected representatives in a violation of Freedom of Expression, Association and Assembly, they alleged.
They further urged the commission to take urgent action in the matter and direct Director General of Police of Manipur LM Khaute to produce all relevant documents pertaining to the arrest of Shintha within 48 hours for an independent examination by the NHRC.
Depending upon the result of the investigation, the human rights agencies also urged the central rights commission to direct Manipur DGP Khaute to take necessary disciplinary action and institute legal proceedings under relevant IPC sections against all police officials involved in the ill-treatment, harassment, misuse of powers and violation of arrest guidelines in this case.
The agencies also urged the NHRC to direct the chief secretary of Manipur to provide adequate compensation to Shintha for the mental trauma inflicted upon him and violation of his fundamental rights.
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