x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Indian journalists take a stand against intimidation

At least six journalists have been killed in the past decade in Imphal, including a sub-editor at Imphal Free Press, Konsam Rishikanta, who was blindfolded, gagged and shot dead by unknown gunmen in November 2008.

NEW DELHI // Journalists in Manipur plan to hold a rally today to protest against threats from militants.

The rally, organised by the All-Manipur Working Journalists Union, is meant as a symbolic stand against intimidation, said Yumnam Rupachandra, a union member and chief editor at ISTV, a local television station.

"We are holding this rally to tell the militants and the government that they must let the media function freely and not to interfere in our work," said Mr Rupachandra.

Last week, a grenade was delivered to the offices of the daily newspaper Naharolgi Thongdang with a note that read: "Last warning to the editor, next will be blast".

It came from an obscure faction of an insurgent group called the Kangleipak Communist Party-Military Council (KCP), which was angry that newspapers were not printing their press releases.

The incident was the last straw for reporters in the state's capital, Imphal, which has seen killings, kidnappings and bomb threats against journalists in recent years.

The leading papers kept their editorial pages blank the following day to protest the threats they regularly face from Manipur's myriad militant groups.

"These incidents have been happening periodically for many years," said Pradip Phanjoubam, the editor of Imphal Free Press. "It's mostly new factions that appear and want to say something about a rival. When we refuse, they threaten us."

In last week's incident, the group was demanding that the media print a letter explaining why they had kidnapped and murdered a government employee and his son.

S Ibomcha, 58, a caretaker with the water department, was abducted from the capital along with his son S Gitchandra, 18, on December 7. When the government refused to negotiate, the two men were shot in the head and their bodies dumped in a village south of the city.

Such incidents of extortion and murder are common in Manipur, where as many as 40 insurgent groups compete for influence and money.

At least six journalists have been killed in the past decade in Imphal, including a sub-editor at Imphal Free Press, Konsam Rishikanta, who was blindfolded, gagged and shot dead by unknown gunmen in November 2008.

In April 2006, a KCP faction took hostage six editors from daily papers in Imphal and demanded they print a press release about the anniversary of the group's founding.

"We have complained to the government about the lack of security at media houses," Mr Phanjoubam said. "There are elections coming in the next few weeks and some of those contesting the elections may have links to militants and may use intimidation against journalists, so we have demanded security."

The government has obliged and provided police commandos at every media office in the city.

Mr Rupachandra said journalists also face considerable harassment from security forces.

"The president of our union was once falsely charged with being a member of an underground group," said Mr Rupachandra. "Our offices have been raided in the past. They want to punish us when we print items they do not like. We face problems from all sides."

 

foreign.desk@thenational.ae