On October 24, 2015, the editors of five Nagaland newspapers – Nagaland Post, Nagaland Page, Morung Express, Eastern Mirror and Capi – received a letter from the paramilitary force, Assam Rifles. Signed by the force’s Public Relations Officer with the subject, “Media Support to Unlawful Association”, the letter asked the editors of the dailies to “refrain from publishing any material which would unnecessarily incite the public and disrupt the existing peace in the State”. The letter said the newspapers had violated the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act of 1967 by carrying articles based on statements issued by the banned outfit, National Social Council of Nagaland (Khaplang). Protesting against the letter, Morung Express, Eastern Mirror and Nagaland Page left their editorial space blank on Monday.
In an email interview, Nagaland Page’s editor, Monalisa Changkija, talks about the rationale behind the move, the way ahead, and the challenges of doing journalism under the shadow of the Armed Forces (Special) Powers Act, 1958. Here are edited excerpts of the interview:
No it was not advisory. I think lawyers would argue that we are not legally obliged to follow the notification. However, you must understand that the Armed Forces (Special) Powers Act, 1958, is in force and enforced in Nagaland and so is the Prevention of Unlawful Activities Act, thus, the security forces have a pretty good run deciding the “implementation” of the two Acts. I will not say much as I’m assuming that you are well aware of the situation in Nagaland since over 60 years.
To my knowledge, the Assam Rifles has sent such a notice for the first time. But you must understand that the media in Nagaland is not just 25 to 30 years old. Our first newspaper – Ao Milan – started in 1932 or 1934. However, more newspapers started since the mid/late 1960s, which were all weeklies, and you must understand that even publishing weeklies was not an easy task considering the level of development, or under-development, at that point of our history. Moreover, the political situation was not convivial either — what with the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 (AFSPA) in force right from that time. So it shouldn’t surprise anyone if such notices were formally issued to Nagaland newspapers in those earlier days, or even in the 1970s and 1980s, by the Army or the Assam Rifles.
But it is not always such “notices” through which the security forces here intimidate the local press. Having completed 30 years in this profession in April this year, I have personally experienced the numerous ways the security forces here resort to, to muzzle media freedom in Nagaland. It is only since 1997, after the ceasefire between the NSCN (IM) and after about a year later with the NSCN (K), the security forces here have toned down and have actually re-invented themselves as the “friends” of our people — before then, it was more or less a state of military rule with the writ of the AFSPA looming large over our heads. Still, it must be said that despite the ceasefires between the government of India and various non-state actors here, the AFSPA is still in force and enforced here. Hence, in one form or the other, martial rule continues. It has become more evident after the abrogation of the ceasefire between the government of India and the NSCN (K).
Since on November 16, 2015, the government of India has notified/declared the NSCN (K) as a terrorist organisation/group, we would have to look at the finer details. However, editorial decision on what constitutes news will not be compromised.
Finally, we heard from the Assam Rifles on email. This is what they had to say:
ASSAM RIFLES AND FREEDOM OF PRESS – THE TRUTH
Assam Rifles had written the letter to the Editors of five Media Houses of Nagaland on 24 Oct 2015, highlighting the fact that NSCN(K) has been notified as an Unlawful Association under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967 by the Ministry of Home Affairs, and amplified some of the clauses of the Gazette Notification which have its own legal implications. A copy of the MHA Notification was enclosed with the letter. Assam Rifles in no way have issued any “gag order” on the Press. The Editors were requested to publish articles of NSCN(K) in consonance with the Act quoted above.
Publishing an “Extortion Notice” of a “Banned Organisation” against business establishments is akin to abetting the “Banned Organisation” in collection of funds which will be used to carry out subversive activities against the govt agencies and Security Forces. If Media Houses feel it is correct to issue them to public through their medium it’s their call, and answer the Press Council of India for violation of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967. The Media Houses are free to publish any article about the NSCN(K) organisation which would add to the Peace Process, air their opinion about the Security Forces and their conduct of operations. At no stage has the Media been asked to dilute their free reporting. The contents of the advisory making the Media Houses aware of the MHA Notification and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act are being deliberately misinterpreted.
The intent of the letter was to prevent contact of NSCN(K) with the public for conveying their “Extortion Demands” or “Extortion Threats” through a medium of mass communication. The sequence of events over the past couple of days appears to be a well conceived plan by vested interests to use the Press and muzzle the voice of the Assam Rifles, which is the only organisation having faced the full brunt of terrorist actions and achieved tangible results against a terrorist organisation. Even today, as in the past, the Editors are free to publish any Press Release they receive from NSCN(K), however, it would not be possible for them to feign ignorance of the MHA Notification declaring NSCN(K) a banned terrorist organisation and any consequent legal repercussions leading to it. It is their moral call to unleash “Extortion Demands” and “Self Proclaimed Killings/ Threats” of NSCN(K) to the Naga civil society from their esteemed Media Houses.
Read the joint statement issued by the editors of the five newspapers here.