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Media outlets in Manipur state shut down to protest threats against journalist

(IFJ/IFEX) - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) extends its solidarity to colleagues in the Indian state of Manipur in their collective protest at the dire threats issued by a local militant group against S. Singlianmang Guite, correspondent of "The Sangai Express".

In response to a joint call made by the All Manipur Working Journalists' Union (AMWJU) and the Manipur Hill Journalists' Union (MHJU), the state's newspapers and news channels shut down en masse on July 22, 2010 in protest against this threat to a colleague.

The AMWJU has since called off its mass abstention following an unconditional written apology by the armed group concerned. The MHJU will continue its protest closure for another day.

"We note that this is the third time in as many years that the media in Manipur has had to shut down completely to protest the threats it receives from the numerous militant groups and security agencies in the state," IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said.

"Journalists have also, in the recent past, been impelled to surrender their press accreditation cards to the authorities in a symbolic protest against their perilous existence. This closure, unlike earlier ones which stretched on for days, has been relatively brief. But it highlights once again how journalism in Manipur is at constant risk of being caught in the crossfire between rival armed groups on one side and state security agencies on the other," Park added.

According to IFJ sources, Guite's home in the district town of Churachandpur was visited at 11.45 am on July 21 by three men who arrived in a car. Witnesses identified the vehicle as one frequently used by the Hmar Peoples Convention (Democratic) - or HPC(D) - a militant group that recently entered into a "suspension of operations" agreement with the authorities in Manipur state and the Indian Union Government.

Guite, a former secretary of the MHJU, was not home. But the militants, brandishing firearms, spoke threateningly to his wife and demanded she put them in contact with Guite. Once phone contact was established, the putative leader of the group spoke at length in an angry tone, warning Guite of dire consequences if his paper did not retract a report published that morning.

The report dealt with a rescue operation that had freed an abducted doctor. The site of the rescue was identified as one where the HPC(D) is active, and seemed in the perception of the militant group to implicate them in the abduction. Though Guite did not prepare the report, which was published with the dateline of the state capital of Imphal, he was picked out as an easy target.

"The IFJ urges civil society in Manipur to stand firm against this tendency for militant groups and security agencies to pick on journalists as soft targets, in effect depriving the people of the state of accurate information on matters of vital concern to them," Park said.
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