Is the arrest of a Manipur based senior journalist a suppressing of democratic free press in Manipur?


IMPHAL, Feb 4 (NNN): On December 29, 2010, a senior journalist and vernacular daily Sanaleibak editor A Mobi was arrested by Manipur police on charges of having nexus with the proscribed Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP), Tabungba faction, following which news media in Manipur have been refraining from publishing government news, terming the arrest as “fabricated” and motivated. Over one month since, the ‘black out’ is still on with the case against him being dragged about with no sign of relief for the distraught journalist.
When Newmai News Network called on A. Mobi today at his office chamber, the editor said that he has been waiting for the police to file a chargesheet so that he may be given the opportunity to prove his innocence in the court of law.
Mobi was arrested on the morning of December 29 from infront of his office in Sega Road in Imphal by commandos of Imphal West in civvies on charges of collecting extortion money on behalf of the KCP. The police have alleged that he was arrested red-handed while accepting the extortion money which the journalist community has since been flatly rebuffing by terming the arrest as fabricated and motivated. And that the claim of having recovered Rs 50,000 from the journalist by the police has been stage-managed and “affected” by the police themselves, said All Manipur Working Journalists Union ( AMWJU ), a conglomerate of journalists in Manipur.  
Following sustained protests by journalists of the State under the banner of All Manipur Working Journalists’ Union (AMWJU), A. Mobi was released on bail on January 5 after seven days of remand in police custody. AMWJU had demanded unconditional release of the senior journalist.
As of today, apparently the case has not been taken forward and no chargesheet has been filed against him as would be expected of criminal proceedings. “My freedom has been curtailed with trials not being initiated by the authority. I cannot move freely as I am constrained to appear once every month in the court and report once every week to the police station. My professional and personal life is under a lot of stress,” said the visibly shaken journalist.
Lamenting the absence of democratic free press in the State, AMWJU had sent a memorandum to the Prime Minister  in December for his intervention on the unconditional release of Mobi stating that the arrest is an attempt to target the media in Manipur by the State police for its apparent role in exposing the alleged fake encounter at BT Road on July 23, 2009, where a former underground member and a pregnant woman ware killed besides injuring half a dozen passers by.
Recollecting the obduracy of both the State and non-State forces against the free functioning of media in the State AMWJU had stated that in 2008 a group had brazenly walked into the office of the Sangai Express and had placed a bomb for refusing to publish certain press items. One faction of KCP had once walked into the office of Mobi on one occasion and had ransacked it. Rishikanta, a journalist with the Imphal Free Press was brutally murdered by some unidentified persons, the report of which is still under wraps.
The journalist fraternity has now pledged to take the matter seriously with the case of A. Mobi being given a priority. “AMWJU would file a case against the government if it does not file a chargesheet against him and initiate a free and fair trial at the earliest, thereby giving him the opportunity to be absolved by the law” said Kh. Khogen, president of AMWJU and the editor of The Sangai Express (Manipuri edition), to NNN.
Kh. Khogen also said that ministers TN Haokip and N Biren had called on AMWJU informally to take note of its demand to which they were told by the member journalists that a prompt and fair trial is all they wanted.
Yumnam Rupachandra, editor ISTV (a local television channel) and special correspondent of the Kolkatta based The Statesman, said to NNN that if the police really claim that A Mobi is guilty as charged and was actually arrested red-handed, then without any further delay the authorities should file a chargesheet against him and bring him to trial to finish off the case at the earliest.
“Dilly delaying the case and not pursuing it to its logical conclusion is a gross denial of human rights and his right to live peacefully. The concerned authority must expedite Mobi’s case,” Yumnam Rupachandra said.
The cry for justice by the journalists notwithstanding, it appears that the case of Mobi will drag on for now as is apparent from criminal cases lying in suspended animation for want of justice and free trial in the court of law.
Manipur noted Advocate Khaidem Mani has lent credence to the premise saying that thousands of crime cases remain pending in criminal courts.
“FIR cases are being registered in huge numbers most of which are not even chargesheeted to be produced before the court of law for lack of evidence to be substantiated. Less than 5 percent goes on to be chargesheeted. Some of which that goes to the court are also low on evidence,” said Khaidem Mani to NNN.
Given the regretful state of affairs of grievance redressal and justice delivery system, it might be a while before A. Mobi is given the trial he deserves. And consequently, the black-out of news about the achievements of State government in local news media remains for now. Or so it would appear. 


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