New Delhi: Manipuri student leader Thokchom Veewon will be presented before a magistrate at Patiala House court in New Delhi on Saturday following his arrest under charges of sedition on Friday evening. Unaware of his whereabouts till early morning on Saturday, his family and friends feared he would be presented before a magistrate in Imphal, not New Delhi, as the protocol mandates.
Thokchom’s brother, Venus, told EastMojo that while his sister, who was home at the time of arrest, was given the special cell address by the cops, they haven’t been allowed to see him since they arrived. “The cops at the special cell told us that the Manipur police took him away and they do not know where he is and gave us two phone numbers. When I called up the number they gave us, the Manipur police personnel said he cannot disclose the location for security reasons”, he said.
According to Venus, there's a clear attempt to conduct the entire procedure in Manipur. “A sub-inspector of the Manipur police told me that if he can be presented in Manipur within 24 hours, then he doesn’t have to be produced in Delhi,” he added. At the time of his arrest, Thokchom’s laptop and mobile phone were also seized.
The former president of Manipur Students’ Association in Delhi was picked up from his residence in Saket at 5.30 pm by four police personnel, two of whom were from Manipur police. A case under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code was registered at Lamlai police station (Imphal West) for a Facebook post criticising the recently lapsed Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016. Thokchom's friends and family say that he was picked up by the police without an arrest warrant.
However, Imphal East SP S Meghachandra Singh told EastMojo that Thokchom would be produced before a magistrate in Delhi, contrary to rumours that he was being flown out to Imphal on Sunday. “If the Delhi magistrate gives a police remand then we will request for transit remand through a proper channel”, he said. Meanwhile, an official in the know of matters confirmed to EastMojo that Thokchom would not be flown down to Imphal on Saturday due to pending paperwork.
While the SP confirmed the assistance of the special cell, the Joint Commissioner of Police, Special Cell, MM Oberoi, told EastMojo that the special cell had no role in the arrest or holding of Thokchom in custody.
Javed Mehdi, Thokchom's friend and fellow student leader, alleged that the state chief minister Biren Singh directed the state police to raid Thokchom’s home in Imphal on February 12, the day when the controversial Bill was listed for consideration and passing in the Rajya Sabha.
“That day, he put up a post on Facebook speaking against the Bill and called the CM ‘a puppet of New Delhi’. The police told his family that they had come on the direction of the home minister,” he said. Thokchom’s Facebook account was deactivated hours after his arrest although it isn’t clear on whose behest. Mehdi says that the police had similarly paid a visit to his family residence in Imphal about a month ago.
The Imphal East SP, on the other hand, said that Veewon was booked under sedition for his call for independence, not his criticism of the CM. “It was based on his Facebook post, where he wrote, ‘Since the citizenship amendment bill was going to be passed by the Central government in the Rajya Sabha at any cost, people in Manipur have no option but the right to self determination i.e. independence’”. This has been the very demand of separatist organisations in Manipur, he added.
He said that Veewon’s Facebook post had prompted a suo moto inquiry by the criminal investigation department of the crime branch, who then submitted a report based on which the case was filed in Lamlai police station.
Despite several attempts, CM N Biren Singh and the BJP state spokesperson could not be reached for a comment.
Thokchom completed his Master’s degree from Ambedkar University and was preparing for UGC NET and M Phil programme. Barely two weeks ago, he was in a panel discussion in New Delhi with Supreme Court lawyer Colin Gonsalves and Justice (Retd) Markandey Katju protesting the detention of Manipur journalist Kishorchandra Wangkhem under the National Security Act.
Lamenting the use of draconian laws against journalists and political and human rights activists, he had said, “This has become a norm to detain someone under NSA as far as Manipur is concerned. And this is disheartening to know that this is the kind of society we are living in. What freedom means for us is Lingthamba - the right to protest without violence.”
Thokchom’s is the second case of sedition filed in Manipur after suo moto charges were brought on journalist Kishorechandra Wangkhem for a video he posted on Facebook criticising the CM for celebrating the birth anniversary of Rani Laxmibai in an official programme in Manipur. However, sedition charges were quashed by a local court only to be followed by NSA detention on the district magistrate’s order.
With Thokchom’s arrest, the increasing pattern of using ‘offences against state’ laws against dissenters in the Northeast has become more evident since prominent public intellectuals and activists in Assam were booked under sedition in January.
Meanwhile, Mehdi says that he is prepared for any impending arrest since ‘they can be targeted anytime by this dictator type of government’. “They have a lot of fake accounts running from the BJP IT cell in Manipur that we often report. But they will not catch them.”