Erendro Leichombam, the convener of Peoples’ Resurgence and Justice Alliance (PRJA), a regional party from Manipur, has been arrested on charges of inciting hatred and criminal intimidation for allegedly refusing to take down a “hate” video he posted on his Facebook page.
The video shows some youths, suspected to be Biharis, threatening to kill all Manipuris.
The police had issued a statewide warning to delete the widely-shared video after it created a public uproar in the Northeastern state. However, the PRJA convener refused to take it down, describing the police circular as a “fake warning”. The police had earlier detained six persons for circulating the hate video.
Erendro was picked up by a joint team of the Imphal Police and the state’s cybercrime unit around noon on May 26 from his city office in Thangmeiband. His supporters said Erendro had insisted on driving his car to the police station, rather than go in the police vehicle which had come to pick him up. According to them, no arrest warrant was shown or handed to Erendro while arresting him. In the first information report lodged against him, Erendro has been charged under Sections 153/A, 153/B, 505, 506, 511 of the Indian Penal Code and 84-C of the IT Act, all relating to inciting and attempting to incite hatred among communities. He has been remanded to police custody till May 28.
Supporters of Erendro stage a sit-in demonstration demanding his release on Sunday in Imphal.
Photo by: Armstrong Chanambam
In the Facebook post that many believe led to his arrest, Erendro wrote: “Following a fake police warning, this video has been removed from social media but I refuse to do so. It betrays their mindset and what is inside their heart. Why are these people who threaten to kill all Manipuris still at large when there was an immediate arrest following a threat to the Chief Minister’s son? No Manipuris will remain silent if they are threatened, even if their mouths are gagged.”
After posting the said video, Erendro wrote on Facebook on May 25 at 2.22 pm: “Someone has pointed out that the video created by the ‘bhayajis‘ in which they have threatened to kill Ngari (fermented fish)-eating Manipuris appears to have been recorded inside an Indian Army/Security Forces Camp. Manipur Police and government, if you have the courage, search inside the numerous Army camps. Do your job.”
Erendro had co-founded PRJA two years ago, six months before the last Assembly elections, along with human rights crusader Irom Chanu Sharmila soon after the latter gave up her 16-year-old fast. He has a post-graduate degree in public administration from Harvard University. Though he lost the last Assembly elections, Erendro has managed to gain a significant number of followers in Manipur, especially among the youth, and has been a vocal critic of the BJP-led governments in the state and Centre, said PRJA’s spokesperson Biju Leishanghtem.
The BJP spokesperson in Manipur had, some time ago, threatened to file a defamation suit against Erendro following a heated argument during a discussion program in a local cable television channel.
Reacting to the arrest, Manipur Pradesh Congress Committee general secretary Meghachandra Keisham told 101Reporters over the phone that everyone is entitled to express their opinion on social media. “It is unfortunate that the PRJA convener has been put behind bars unreasonably.”
Dr Laiphungbam Debbrata Roy, president of Centre for Organisation Research and Education (CORE), a Manipur-based representative organisation of indigenous people, said: “We are deeply concerned with Erendro’s arrest and the climate of fear engulfing the country. He is a promising young political leader who has been attempting to engage the public in a dialogue by critiquing the government with his well-researched arguments. His arrest appears like political vendetta with the intention to curtail his promising and nascent career in politics.”
PRJA volunteers disclosed that despite the police offering to release him if he took down the video, Erendro refused to do so. He said he would remove it only after the government ensures the security of all Manipuris staying outside the state and arrests the youths who make the hate speech in the video.
From an overview of his Facebook profile, which is ‘public’, one does get an insight into Ernendro’s politics and arguments. Among his many posts, one that could be mentioned to give voice to his now-jailed opinion is a post from May 7. Erendro wrote on FB at 10.20pm: “They have a problem if we write the truth in newspapers. They have a problem if we speak on local TV. They have a problem if we raise our voice on Facebook. They have a problem with us? Or do they want us to be slaves who say yes to their yeses and no to their nos? That ain’t us. That ain’t me.”
Update: Erendro refused to apply for bail when he was produced at an Imphal court on Monday. He told the judge that he did not want legal aid from the state and would like unconditional release as police action against him is “political persecution” because he has been acting as a vocal Opposition party in the state. The court ordered him to be put under judicial custody for 15 days.
(Armstrong Chanambam is an Imphal-based freelance writer and a member of 101reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters)