Today marks Kishorechandra Wangkhem’s 122nd day in jail. The American Bar Association Center for Human Rights is concerned that Mr. Wangkhem has been detained without cause, apparently in retaliation for his criticism of the ruling party, and that due to poor conditions of confinement, his health is deteriorating.
Mr. Wangkhem is a journalist based in Manipur, India. Since November 27, 2018, Mr. Wangkhem has been imprisoned under the National Security Act (NSA) solely because of his public criticism of the Indian government. The NSA permits the state to preventatively detain individuals – without the framing of substantive charges – so as to maintain security and the public order. While India has reportedly used the NSA to imprison government critics who present no security threat, this is one of the first times that the law has been used against a journalist. In December 2018, Mr. Wangkhem’s counsel challenged his detention by submitting a writ of habeas corpus before the Manipur High Court. The Center monitored the subsequent habeas corpus proceedings as part of the Clooney Foundation for Justice’s TrialWatch project, evaluating whether they complied with India’s treaty obligations.
A review of court records and Mr. Wangkhem’s statements demonstrates that Mr. Wangkhem is being held in violation of India’s obligations under international law – in particular, India’s obligation to preserve the rights to freedom of expression and freedom from arbitrary detention. Police documents, the NSA Arrest Order, and submissions by the government during the habeas corpus proceedings improperly cite legitimate expressions of opinion - Facebook videos in which Mr. Wangkhem cursed and criticized the ruling party - as the predicate for detention. As a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, India is required to protect the right to freedom of expression, including the expression of unpopular opinions.
Meanwhile, although Mr. Wangkhem’s profanity-laced statements may be unpalatable, they pose no threat to national security and therefore do not justify his imprisonment. As stated by the judge who released Mr. Wangkhem on bail before he was detained under the NSA, “[the videos] appea[r] to be a mere expression of opinion against the public conduct of a public figure in a street language”, not a call to enmity or violence. The evidence put forth to detain Mr. Wangkhem thus fails to satisfy the requirements of international law, which only authorizes preventative detention for limited purposes, none of which apply in this case.
Within the next several days, the Manipur High Court will issue its decision on the legality of Mr. Wangkhem’s detention. The Center urges the Court to uphold India’s obligations under international law, order the immediate release of Mr. Wangkhem, and ensure that he receives adequate medical treatment. The Center will issue a complete report on the habeas corpus proceedings following the judgment.
 The Clooney Foundation for Justice provided financial support for this observation, which is part of the Clooney Foundation for Justice’s TrialWatch project monitoring trials around the world. This report has not been approved by the ABA House of Delegates and should not be construed to represent ABA policy nor necessarily represent the views of the Clooney Foundation for Justice.