Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Assam Rifles versus Nagaland editors

India’s oldest paramilitary force, the Assam Rifles, has accused 5 Nagaland dailies of violating the UAPA by supporting the NSCN (K).

Written by Samudra Gupta Kashyap |
November 18, 2015 12:36:50 am
nagaland, nagaland newspapers, nagaland blank newspapers, blank newspapers nagaland, nagaland news, india news The Assam Rifles regiment parading on Republic Day (Express file photo)

What exactly did the Assam Rifles say?

In its letter No. 1120/GS(Ops)/41/965 dated October 24, 2015, to editors of five newspapers in Nagaland, the Assam Rifles said: “…On 17, 18 and 21 Oct 2015, you have published articles issued by MIP of NSCN (K) threatening senior lawmakers of the Nagaland government and encouraging collection of funds by representative of NSCN (K). Such articles can be construed as providing support to an Unlawful Association… Any article which projects the demands of the NSCN (K) and gives it publicity is a violation under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967…” It marked copies of the letter to the Nagaland Chief Secretary, Home Commissioner and DGP, seeking suo motu cognizance of the alleged violation of the anti-terror law.

Which specific provisions of the UA(P) Act did the media allegedly violate?
Section 10(a)(iv) of the Act says: “Where an association is declared unlawful… a person who… in any way assists the operations of such association, shall be punishable with imprisonment for (up to) two years, and shall also be liable to fine”. Section 13(1)(b) says: “Whoever advocates, abets, advises or incites the commission of any unlawful activity, shall be punishable with imprisonment (up to) seven years, and shall also be liable to fine.” The Assam Rifles sees the dailies as having allegedly assisted and abetted the operation of the unlawful association called the NSCN (K).

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Can security forces or the government include the media under the purview of this Act?
The “statement of objects and reasons” of the Act says: “Pursuant to the acceptance by Government of a unanimous recommendation of the Committee on National Integration and Regionalism appointed by the National Integration Council, the Constitution (Sixteenth Amendment) Act, 1963, was enacted empowering Parliament to impose… reasonable restrictions in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, on the (i) freedom of speech and expression; (ii) right to assemble peaceably and without arms; and (iii) right to form associations or unions.”

What did the editors have to say?
In a statement, the editors have said, “It is our understanding that the Assam Rifles is concerned about three critical issues: (a) that through our reporting of press statements by NSCN-K, we have, in effect, intentionally or unintentionally supported unlawful association; (b) we have violated the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act of 1967; and (c) by publishing statements by banned organisations, we are, ipso facto, complicit in the organisations’ illegal activities. These are serious charges… that merit a response… By implying that the Nagaland-based media is supporting a particular banned organisation, the Assam Rifles is, ipso facto, jeopardising the personal safety and well being of the Editors and the media fraternity in Nagaland.”

So, have newspapers in Nagaland supported banned organisations?
The editors said, “When we have reported news by, or from, banned organisations, we have done so in the spirit of transparency, inclusivity and fairness so that the surfacing divergent opinions can promote dialogue and constructive engagement among diverse groups… History shows that at no point has the spirit or letter of our publications intentionally sought to support a banned organisation or to incite and promote violence, or was biased in nature.”

Has the media been accused of violating the UAPA in the past?
Not in this way, even though UAPA and related Acts like the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and Disturbed Areas Act have been in force at different times since 1958. In Assam, after these Acts were simultaneously applied on November 27, 1990, at least three newspaper editors were arrested on different occasions for allegedly aiding and abetting the cause of the ULFA.

Do the Nagaland media feel gagged?
The editors have denied having ever “intentionally sought to support a banned organisation or to incite and promote violence”. They have expressed concern over the suggestion that they have, in their reporting, been “complicit in illegal activities”. They have asked, “Is this an attempt to censor, weaken and ultimately silence the role of the media in Nagaland?”

How has the Assam Rifles responded to the editors’ protest?
On November 17, it issued a statement saying that it had “in no way… issued any ‘gag order’ on the Press”. It said the editors were only requested to “publish articles of NSCN (K) in consonance with the (UAP) Act”. “The Media Houses are free to publish any article about the NSCN (K)… which would add to the Peace Process, air their opinion about the Security Forces and their conduct of operations. At no stage has the Media been asked to dilute their free reporting. The contents of the advisory making the Media Houses aware of the MHA Notification and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act are being deliberately misinterpreted.”

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