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Manipur scribe, activist booked under NSA over FB post; What is National Security Act?

Journalist Kishorchandra Wangkhem and political activist Erendro Leichombam booked under the National Security Act (NSA) of 1980  by the police in Imphal, Manipur over their Facebook posts allegedly alluding to the death of State BJP president S. Tikendra Singh.

An order issued by Imphal West District Magistrate, Th. Kirankumar, on Monday, said Mr Wangkhem “be detained under Section 3(2) of National Security Act, 1980, until further orders as and when he is released on bail”. The journalist and Mr Leichombam were later booked under NSA, said Imphal West’s Superintendent of Police, L. Meghachandra Singh.

They were arrested on May 13 after the BJP leader died of COVID-19.

In their post, they referred to his death and had commented that cow urine and dung were not cures for the infection.

Their arrest was based on a complaint filed by Manipur BJP general secretary P. Premananda Meetei and vice-president Usham Deban Singh.

They have been granted bail by the district’s Chief Judicial Magistrate granted on Monday on the execution of a personal recognisance bond of ₹50,000 each with “a surety bond of a like amount” on condition that they will not repeat a “similar offence in the future” and be available for interrogation by the investigating officer as and when required.

Previous Cases

Both Mr. Wangkhem, 41, and Mr. Leichombam, 40, were arrested twice earlier on charges of sedition and for criticising the government. Mr. Leichombamis the founder of the People’s Resurgence and Justice Alliance, a political party whose candidate in the 2017 Manipur election included rights activist Irom Sharmila.

Mr. Wangkhem was released in April 2019 after being detained for over four months under the NSA for allegedly derogatory comments against the BJP-led government in the State and using expletives while referring to Chief Minister N. Biren Singh.

A sedition case was filed against Mr. Leichombam in July 2020 over a Facebook post in which he was allegedly critical of the State’s titular king Sanajaoba Leishemba after his election to the Rajya Sabha as a BJP member.

What is the National Security Act?

The National Security Act is an act that empowers the government to detain a person if the authorities are satisfied that he/she is a threat to national security or to prevent him/her from disrupting public order.

When did the NSA come into existence?

Former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi brought the National Security Act in on 23 September, 1980.

How did the National Security Act come about?

The NSA Act 1980 has its roots in the colonial era. 

In 1818: Bengal Regulation III was enacted to empower the British government to arrest anyone for maintenance of public order without giving the person recourse to judicial proceedings. 

In 1919: the Rowlatt Act allowed confinement without a trial. The Jallianwalla Bagh tragedy was a direct result of the protest against the Rowlatt Act.

In 1971: Post-independence, Indira Gandhi introduced the controversial Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA, which was similar to the Rowlatt Act. It was repealed in 1977.

In 1980: Eventually, the National Security Act (NSA) was promulgated.

What is the maximum period of detention under the NSA?

A person can be detained for up to 12 months without a charge. A person can be held for 10 days without being told the charges against them. The person can appeal before a high court advisory board but will not be allowed a lawyer during the trial.

Why does the NSA Act matter?

There are certain rights that have been granted by the constitution to the arrested person. 

Like, Article 22 (1) of the Indian Constitution says an arrested person cannot be denied the right to consult, and to be defended by, a legal practitioner of his choice. 

According to Section 50 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CRPC), any person arrested has to be informed of the grounds of arrest and has the right to bail.

However, under the National Security Act, none of these rights are available to the person detained. The government holds the right to conceal information which it considers to be against the public interest to disclose.

The detained person is not entitled to any legal aid.

Moreover, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), which collects crime data in India, does not include cases under the NSA as no FIRs are registered.

What are the prominent criticisms against the National Security Act?

 NSA has come under wide criticism for its misuse by the authorities. Some experts describe the validity of the Act even during peacetime as ‘anachronism’.

A section also points to the fact that the governments use NSA as an extra-judicial power.

Most recent use of the National Security Act

On January 17, 2020, the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi passed an order conferring the Commissioner of Police with the power to detain under NSA for a period of three months — between 19 January and 18 April. The order came at a time when the national capital was witnessing protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC)

In January 2019, the BJP-led Uttar Pradesh arrested three persons under NSA in connection with an alleged cow-slaughter case.

Dr Kafeel Khan was arrested for a speech he delivered at the Aligarh Muslim University on 12 December 2019. An FIR was registered against him the next day under Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion). Later, Sections 153B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration) and 505(2) (statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill will between classes) were added to the FIR. 

While he was granted bail on 10 February, he wasn’t released and was hit with NSA charges instead on 13 February. 

‘Misuse Of Law’: Allahabad HC Quashed 94 Out Of 120 NSA Cases Lodged By UP Govt

Last month, the Allahabad High Court rejected the UP government’s orders of imposing the National Security Act (NSA) in the 94 cases between January 2018 and December 2020. The UP Government had imposed the NSA in 120 cases in the time frame. The High Court also rejected the 32 cases given by the District Magistrate, ordering the release of the detainees. 

According to the records, 41 cases were of ‘cow slaughtering’, more than one-third of the total cases that reached the High Court. All the accused belonged to the minority community. They were detained on the basis of the FIRs alleging cow slaughter by the District Magistrate, reported India Today.

The court cancelled the NSA order by the UP government in the 30 cow slaughter cases and called for the release of the petitioner. In the remaining 11 cases of cow slaughter where it upheld the detention, except for one, the lower court and the High Court later granted bail to the accused, clarifying that their judicial custody was not required. In each cow slaughter case, the district magistrates virtually echoed each other to state the reason to invoke NSA was that the accused had moved for bail and their release was “imminent”. If the accused was out of jail, he would “again” indulge in “activities prejudicial to public order”, reported The Indian Express.

The High Court found the UP government’s cases as the ‘misuse of NSA law’. There were several examples of ‘cut and paste’ in the police FIRs. 

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