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Sedition and the Vindictive State: Condemn the arrest of Veewon Thokchom

PUDR strongly condemns the arbitrary arrest of Veewon Thokchom, ex-President of Manipur Students Association of Delhi (MSAD) and student of Ambedkar University, on Friday 15th February in a joint operation by Delhi and Manipur police. Veewon has been at the forefront of protests in Delhi opposing the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 and campaigning against arrest of journalist  Kishorechandra Wangkhem under National Security Act (NSA) in November 2018.  The orders for his arrest reportedly came from the Manipur Cyber Crime Cell. Earlier, the police visited his parents’ home in his village, searched the house and threatened them.  

Veewon was forcibly dragged away from his residence in Saket without any arrest memo or reasons for arrest being given to his sister who was also present. He has been booked under Sections 124A (Sedition) and 153A (promoting enmity between two groups), among others, for a Facebook post on 13th February, the day the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill was to come up before the Rajya Sabha. The post criticized the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, the imposition of indefinite curfew and stopping of internet services in Manipur, and mentioned “self-determination”. His arrest is not a solitary instance. On 30th January 200 people from Manipur were detained at the Mandir Marg Police Station in New Delhi. They were sitting on dharna and had burnt an effigy outside Parliament House in protest.

After being picked up Veewon was taken to an unknown location. It was only after filing  a ‘missing person’ report at Saket PS that MSAD members learnt that he had been taken by the Special Cell, Janakpuri.  The entire process of Veewon’s arrest and what transpired is full of irregularities. The police secretly produced him at the Saket court on 16th February. As they hadn’t been informed, Veewon’s family could not arrange a lawyer for him; in the absence of which a remand advocate was appointed by the state. The magistrate gave transit remand and ordered that the Manipur police produce Veewon before an appropriate court in Manipur before or on 19th February. A habeas corpus petition by Veewon’s lawyers was rejected by Delhi High Court on the grounds that Veewon was now in remand. Veewon’s lawyer again approached the Delhi HC to cancel the remand on the grounds that due process had not been followed and non-application of mind by the magistrate. This petition too was rejected. The HC upheld the remand on the grounds that the remand advocate hadn’t opposed the remand and the arrest memo had now been provided to the family.

 Veewon Thokchom was given bail on 19th February by Chief Judicial Magistrate, Imphal. The judge turned down the remand plea because he did not find the Facebook post to be “prima facie seditious”. The court order observed that the contents of the post cannot be stated to “bring into hatred or contempt or exercise disaffection towards the government established by law” and that “any attempt or incitement to commit violence” was not found. Veewon’s arrest is a blatant act of harassment by a vindictive state intent on punishing and making  an example of him to frighten those, especially student activists, whose protests contributed to the government’s failure in pushing through the Citizens’ Amendment Bill.  The entire saga exposes a state intent on silencing all opposition of which the police’s arbitrariness is a manifestation.

Veewon’s case is part of what has become a familiar pattern with an increasing number of cases under charges of sedition or intent to spread disharmony brought against student activists. A large number of these cases are based  on comments on social media drawing attention to the state’s acts of omission and commission.  The digital media has provided an easy instrument of harassment as it allows the state to bring in charges of sedition with the posts being used as prima facie evidence for arrests. Noticeably, pronouncements and incitements to violence against marginal communities, using the very same media, go unchecked. The state’s action / inaction thus makes it implicitly, if not explicitly, guilty of violation of constitutional and legal rights of citizens.

PUDR demands:

  1. The immediate quashing of the case against Veewon Thokchom.
  2. Action against the police personnel responsible for his illegal arrest and harassment.
  3. Withdrawal of FIRs against activists for democratic protests.

 

Shahana Bhattacharya, Deepika Tandon

Secretaries, PUDR