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IFJ shocked at arrest of Manipur journalist in police "sting"

(IFJ/IFEX) - 3 January 2011 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is shocked at the arrest of a journalist in Imphal, capital of the North-Eastern Indian state of Manipur, after what seems to have been a "sting" operation by the local police.

Ahongsangbam Mobi, editor of a local daily, Sanaleibak, was arrested on December 29 and has reportedly been charged under India's Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for alleged contacts with a banned insurgent group, the Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP).

Mobi is vice-president and spokesperson for the All Manipur Working Journalists' Union (AMWJU), a state-wide union which has long been engaged in negotiating a viable strategy for defending journalism in an environment of multiplying threats by insurgent groups and often harsh retaliatory action by the state security agencies.

AMWJU held a day long protest against Mobi's arrest on December 30 and sought the intervention of the state's highest political leadership to secure his release. Having failed to obtain a satisfactory response, AMWJU called a general strike of the state's newspapers beginning December 31. This is the fourth such closure in two years by the media in Manipur.

"We extend our support and solidarity to this struggle to ensure that the armed groups and state agencies in Manipur are mindful of the security challenges journalists face and will respect the need for journalistic freedom that serves the public right to information," said the IFJ Asia-Pacific.

According to sources tapped by the IFJ, Mobi had been authorised by the AMWJU to negotiate appropriate modalities with the underground group to ensure that it stopped harassing journalists to secure optimal coverage for its own statements and activities. As recently as October 2010, threats and counter-threats from rival factions of the KCP had compelled Manipur's newspapers to shut down for three days in protest at the increasingly insecure environment for journalists.

The AMWJU believes that the KCP faction involved in the most recent incident summoned Mobi to a meeting in Delhi, India's national capital, to discuss the whole range of issues involved in journalists' safety. The KCP also reportedly offered to fund Mobi's travel and stay in Delhi for the purpose.

"We are waiting for further clarity on the role of the police in this entire process, but believe on the basis of all available information, that Mobi may have been the victim of a strategy of entrapment," said the IFJ Asia-Pacific.

On December 29, Mobi had visitors at his residence, who claimed to be KCP cadre, but revealed themselves to be personnel of the Manipur police commando unit as soon as he presented himself. He was rudely and roughly taken in and has so far not been produced before the appropriate judicial authority.

"We demand that the local authorities reveal the entire stratagem that was adopted to arrest the journalist. We call for an explicit acknowledgment that in Manipur's unsettled security environment, media practitioners are often compelled to seek contacts with banned underground outfits, simply because the agencies of the state are unable to guarantee their safety," said the IFJ Asia-Pacific.

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