‘Is the government going to arrest everyone criticising it under sedition charges?’

Rahul Satija | Feb 18, 2019 | 6 min read

art

Now under arrest on sedition charges, this student was leading protests against Citizenship Bill and Manipur chief minister

 


 

On Thursday evening, 22-year-old Veewon Thokchom was spending quiet time with his siblings when suddenly eight men barged into their rented house in south Delhi’s Saket. The Ambedkar University student, who hails from Manipur, was slapped and dragged into a car. His sister Venika presumed them to be kidnappers as they were in civil dress, didn’t show them any identity card or arrest warrant.


Before leaving the house, two of them gave her their phone numbers and the address of a special police cell in Janakpuri. Along with other family members and friends, she rushed to the police station where cops denied keeping Thokchom in custody.


This raised their suspicion further and so his brother went to Saket police station to file a missing complaint where it was found that Thokchomformer president and current advisor of the Manipur Students' Association Delhi (MSAD), was actually under arrest.


"After refusing to give us any FIR copy, a police officer told us at 2 am that Thokchom has been charged with sedition. The family had a breakdown at that time,” Human Rights Law Network (HRLN)’s Rajesh Codra told Newslaundry.


For the whole night, the family was not told about Thokchom's whereabouts or the reason for his arrest. Another cop told them that his case would be presented in front of a district magistrate on 16 February but did not give further details.


In its application to Saket court, Manipur Police had sought transit remand for five days but the court granted them only with three days. Thockchom is now likely to be taken to Imphal on Monday.

Police forced an advocate of its choice.


Ali Zia Kabir, an advocate at HRLN, alleges that the police even forced upon an advocate of its choice to fight for Thokchom"The family has never met that advocate nor the police consulted us. He did not even oppose the remand order in front of the magistrate. The law states that the family has to be informed and the accused has the right to choose his lawyer. We were also not told that in which magistrate’s court the case would be presented," said Ali.


And now after the hearing, the only legal document they have been given is a transit remand order which he finds strange because it does not mention the grounds on which the court granted it.


Why was Veewon Thokchom arrested


Currently preparing for UGC NET and MPhil, student activist Thokchom has been an active voice against the government's move to enact the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill.


During his tenure as MSAD president, one of his former colleagues from the students' body said, he led the charge in critiquing Manipur Chief Minister N. Biren Singh's controversial statement at Gujarat’s Madhavpur Mela in which the BJP leader claimed that, "during the time of Lord Krishna, there was no separate Arunachal Pradesh or Assam or Manipur. The entire northeast was one entity. Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Nagaland are bordering China, Lord Krishna made them part of India during his time".


After drawing a lot of flak for distorting the state's history, the CM later retracted his statement and attributed it to his bad command over Hindi.


Meanwhile, Imphal Times, an eveninger published from the Manipur capital, quoted Imphal East police chief S. Meghachandra as saying that Thokchom was arrested for his call for independence and not for his criticism of the chief minister.


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.


The FIR was lodged soon after a complaint from SP (cyber branch). In its preliminary investigation, the police established plots made by Thokchom to incite violence during the night of agitation against the Citizenship Bill after which a team was set up to arrest him.


The SP said that in one of the messages Thokchom urged people to intensify agitation, burn properties and even confront political parties during curfew in Imphal.


Thokchom's friends, however, describe him as a law-abiding citizen. “How can a guy who has never been in any fight urge people to burn properties? Veewon had always talked about the oppressed people in Manipur and always held a helping hand to anyone in need,” one of his friends said.


Back home in Manipur, Thokchom's mother Bimola says that a police team had raided their house on 12 February and told them to ask his son to concentrate only on studies. Both his parents are now retired school teachers.


Nabakumar Thokchom, Veewon's father, is an executive member of the state unit of Communist Party of India. The former headmaster of a school in Lamlai had been a member of the national council of CPI before poor health forced him to resign.


Did police flout rules?


For the arrest of a 22-year-old student, 8 police officers were sent to the accused’s house. Out of them, at least two came all the way from Manipur.


However, according to sub-inspector Jaivir Tewatia, who was part of the joint team of Delhi and Manipur police, no physical force was used during the arrest.


Activists of Manipur Student Association of Delhi allege that the police has been making several attempts to silence the students. In December last year, police had arrived at the union’s general secretary house and tried to intimidate him for speaking against the arrest of journalist Wangkhemcha Wangthoi. They posed themselves as reporters in order to nab him.

 

A statement from the union said that after a protest against the arrest of the journalist all leaders were arrested by the police on the order of the Manipur CM.

 

N. Sak Balaji, president of the Jawaharlal Nehru Students Union (JNUSU), raised concerns regarding the government's action to silence students. "What is happening in our country? Why so much fear from just one student?” he asked while condemning the arrest.


Meanwhile, Ranjeeta Elangbam, wife of arrested TV journalist Kishorechandra Wangkhem, said the charges levelled against Thockchom is similar with those levelled against her husband initially.

"Is the government going to arrest everyone criticising or protesting against its action under sedition charges?" she asked.

 

More stories published under

Conflict