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Journalist Arrests To Gunfights, Manipur Continues To Burn

The ethnic violence between the Kuki-Meitei tribes since May 3, 2023 has resulted in nearly 200 deaths. With no terms being reached till now and a lack of political engagement with the tribal population, Manipur continues to witness fresh violence in intervals.

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It’s been almost a year now and Manipur continues to burn. Two days after the editor of a daily was arrested over publishing “sensitive contents” of a report on gunfights in Moreh, gunfights broke out between militants and security forces in the region on Sunday night.

The bordering town in Manipur’s Tengnoupal district has been put on high alert following a series of attacks by the hill-based militants on security forces, particularly Manipur police commandos. Earlier, on January 2, six security personnel including a BSF jawan were injured during a gunfight in the border town. Before that, the town witnessed similar gun battles since December 30.

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Meanwhile, Dhanabir Maibam, who is the editor of the Meitei language newspaper Hueiyen Lanpao was arrested on Friday, January 5, for publishing reports on these continuous attacks. The report in ‘Huyen Lanpao’ highlighted some "developing incidents" at Moreh town, which has witnessed a surge in gunfights between state forces and suspected Kuki militants, according to media reports.

"The editor, Dhanabir Maibam, had published sensitive details in a news report," the government official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said. On Sunday, he was granted bail by a local court.

Maibam was booked under various sections of the Official Secrets Act (OSA), including ones that entail punishment for “promoting enmity on the ground of religion and race”.

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Maibam’s arrest comes a few weeks after  Wangkhemcha Shyamjai, the editor of vernacular daily Kangleipaki Meira was arrested on December 28 on similar grounds.

A crackdown on journalists has been persistent in Manipur amid the growing ethnic violence. In September last year, the Manipur Police had filed an FIR against the fact-finding team from the Editors’ Guild of India (EGI) that had visited Manipur and published a report on media coverage of the ethnic conflict. The FIR in its earlier version had charged the Guild under Section 66A of the Information Technology (IT) Act that was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2015. However, that has not stopped police across the states from charging people under this section despite SC’s instructions.

In Manipur, the police have found another way of arrest through sections of the Indian Penal Code relating to promoting enmity between groups, injuring or defiling a place of worship, uttering words with deliberate intent to hurt religious feelings and statements conducing to public mischief, according to the FIR scanned by The Wire.

Meanwhile, violence continues to engulf the northeastern state. Last week, three persons were allegedly shot dead and five others were injured in Thoubal district as gunmen open fired on local targets. In retaliation, the enraged locals set three four-wheelers on fire. It was not immediately clear to whom these cars belonged. Following the firing, the curfew was reimposed in the five valley districts — Thoubal, Imphal East, Imphal West, Kakching, and Bishnupur.

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The ethnic violence between the Kuki-Meitei tribes since May 3, 2023 has resulted in nearly 200 deaths. With no terms being reached till now and a lack of political engagement with the tribal population, Manipur continues to witness fresh violence in intervals. Outlook looks at what would be the way forward to minimise and perhaps end the violence. Is it a political discussion alone, as suggested by Mizoram Chief Minister Lalduhoma? Or the empowerment of the existing District Councils with certain financial autonomy? Or does ending Free Movement Regime help the situation? The solution must be multi-layered but it has to begin somewhere.

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